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An American's Search for Hope in the Middle East

Written by Jennifer MillerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jennifer Miller


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41569-1
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Writing with fierce honesty, Jennifer Miller has created an extraordinary synthesis of history, reportage, and coming-of-age memoir in Inheriting the Holy Land. Her groundbreaking perspective on the conflict is presented through interviews with young Israelis and Palestinians and conversations with some of the most influential officials involved in the Middle East, including Shimon Peres, Yasir Arafat, James Baker, Benjamin Netanyahu, Colin Powell, Ehud Barak, and Mahmoud Abbas. This book will open eyes, open hearts, and open minds.

Miller grew up in an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., surrounded by the chaotic politics of the Middle East. Her father was a U.S. State Department negotiator at the Oslo and Camp David peace summits, and dinnertime conversation in the Miller household often included discussions of the Middle Eastern conflict. When Miller joined Seeds of Peace, a program that brings Middle Eastern kids to Maine for intensive sessions of conflict resolution, her real experience with the Middle East began. As she befriended young Palestinians, Israelis, Egyptians, and Jordanians, Jennifer came to realize that their views were missing from the ongoing debate over the Holy Land. By helping these young voices be heard, she knew she could reveal something vitally new and deeply challenging about the future of this torn region.

Miller, however, learned fast that it was one thing to hang out at the idyllic Seeds for Peace camp in Maine and quite another to confront young people on their own turf–in the alleys of East Jerusalem, behind the armed gates of West Bank settlements, in the teeming refugee camps of Gaza. Friendships that had blossomed in the United States withered in the aftermath of yet another suicide bombing. Big-hearted teens on both sides of the conflict shocked Miller with the ferocity of their illusions and the twisted logic of their misconceptions. But she also found rays of hope in places where others had reported only despair–surprising open-mindedness among the ultra-religious, common ground shared by those who had lost loved ones to the violence, a yearning for peace amid the rubble of refugee camps and the shards of bombed cities.

A deft writer, she interweaves her startlingly candid interviews with the vibrant realities of life in the streets. Just as Jennifer Miller was forced to confront her biases as an American, a Jew, a woman, and a journalist, in Inheriting the Holy Land, she similarly challenges readers to reexamine their own cherished prejudices and assumptions.

From the Hardcover edition.


An Unusual Friendship

It was the largest Star of David I’d ever seen suspended from someone’s neck. I was in Maine for the first day of the Seeds of Peace Camp 2003, and the bus carrying the Israeli delegation had just opened its doors. I was there to observe and select some of the Israelis and Palestinians who appear in this book. I wanted to include both the students I knew from my years as a camper and some of the new kids who were attending Seeds of Peace in the middle of the second intifada. One by one, they were getting out, catching their first glimpses of the lake. And suddenly, there it was: a Jewish star the size of a silver dollar swinging over a blue T-shirt. “Now that’s what I call bling-bling!” someone behind me said. It was true; I’d seen plenty of Israelis strutting their stars down the camp road, wearing their chains like rappers, though this one was the most eye-catching. “So you’re a tough guy?” I silently asked the skinny kid with the outrageous star. “This is Seeds of Peace, not South Central.”

That was before I knew Omri, before he knew me, and before I had any insight into his politics.

Omri, fifteen, is dark and skinny with large, searching eyes. He is Israeli to the core and clearly has the jewelry to prove it. The six-pointed Star of David (which he got as a promotion from his favorite Israeli rapper) is both a Jewish symbol and a national Israeli emblem. Omri also wears his father’s army tag, which he keeps in a dark green canvas pouch. For him, the tag symbolizes his love of the army. He swiped it from his father’s dresser one day and was afraid his dad would get angry. Instead, his father was honored. I imagine this scene: Omri pulling up his shirt, showing off the tag on his bony brown chest, perhaps puffing up to look more manly. I imagine the pride in his father’s eyes.

One afternoon in the camp dining hall, I asked to see the tag, and Omri placed the silver rectangle on the table with great care, like a jeweler appraising his diamonds. For Omri, Israel is forever.

Omri is a Mizrahi Jew—a Jew of Middle Eastern descent. His mother was born in Turkey and his paternal grandparents are from Yemen. His family was part of the Jewish community that flourished throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Many of these Middle Eastern Jews were deeply integrated into their respective societies and had been for decades. The events of 1948, however, came as a revolution for these Jewish communities, as it did for the entire Middle East.

From the end of World War One until May of 1948, a British mandate had governed Palestine. The British made various unsuccessful attempts to map out a viable political future for the Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine. In 1947 the United Nations suggested a partition plan that would divide Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states with Jerusalem as an international district. Despite a great deal of internal opposition, the Jewish leadership endorsed the plan. The Arabs, however, rejected it, saying they opposed the Jewish claim to a state in Palestine.

When the 1947 partition plan failed, Britian withdrew its forces. The Jewish community in Palestine declared the independence of the State of Israel, and the next day, armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Iraq attacked the nascent Israeli state. The Israelis were highly organized in comparison to the uncoordinated Arab forces, and though the Arab soldiers outnumbered the Jews, Jewish forces had the upper hand in some of the most strategic battles. By the war’s end, Israel had signed cease-fires with each country. These were armistice agreements, not treaties; the Arab countries refused to acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy.

Israel captured all of historic Palestine excluding the Gaza Strip, which remained part of Egypt, and the land west of the Jordan River, today known as the West Bank. (Israel did not capture the West Bank and Gaza until a second Arab-Israeli war in 1967.)

The war of 1948, which Israel calls its war of independence and the Arabs call al-Nakba, “The Catastrophe,” resulted in the creation of over 700,000 Palestinian refugees. These were Palestinian Arabs who fled to Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria as a result of Jewish-Arab hostilities. Some of these refugees fled believing they could return to their homes at the war’s end; others were intimidated into leaving by reports of Jewish atrocities. Many of these stories were fiction, but others, such as the infamous massacre of Arab civilians in the village of Dir Yassin, were true. Finally, the Jewish forces forcibly expelled Arabs whose land was necessary to built a contiguous Israeli state.

After Israel declared its independence, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed the Law of Return, which grants full Israeli citizenship to any Jew in the world. The law is highly offensive to Palestinians, because it allowed masses of Jews to immigrate to Israel while 700,000 Palestinian-Arabs who had been living in Palestine for hundreds of years were uprooted from their homes. For most Jews, however, the Law of Return embodies the very meaning of a Jewish nation.

After the war of 1948, Mizrahi Jews like Omri’s family were in need of a safe haven. When Israel defeated the five Arab armies, the Arab and Islamic nations either expelled their Jewish communities or made their lives increasingly difficult. The Law of Return made Israel the obvious destination for these Arab Jews, though not always the easiest. Until the mid-1950s, Israel was dominated by Ashkenazi Jews—Jews of European descent. They were highly skeptical of and even outright discriminatory toward the new immigrants, who seemed much closer to Israel’s Arab neighbors in terms of custom and appearance. Israel’s intense desire to acculturate the new immigrants as “Israeli”—by teaching them Hebrew, putting them in the army, and instilling in them a connection to Eretz Yisrael—has largely paid off. Despite remaining divisions, including cultural differences and a sizable socioeconomic gap between the majority of Israeli Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, today Jews of Arab origin have all but lost their former national allegiances. In fact, their communities consistently vote in large numbers for the right-leaning parties that advocate rigid policies toward the territories and the Palestinians.

Omri’s parents and grandparents have passed much of their distinctive culture on to him: the food they eat, the music they enjoy, and the way they practice Judaism. Omri says that if an Ashkenazi Jew were to attend his father’s Yemeni synagogue, he would hardly understand a word of the service. But as a second generation Israeli, Omri is completely integrated into Israeli society. I have never heard him refer to himself as an Arab Jew or call himself culturally Arab. Neither does he feel part of a separate ethnic group. Omri is Israeli and Jewish. To him, the Arabs are a people apart. This includes Israel’s own Arab population—those Palestinians who did not flee Palestine in the 1948 war and to whom Israel ultimately granted citizenship.

Omri told me about the tension between Bat Yamis (the Jews who live in Omri’s neighborhood of Bat Yam) and the Arabs from the neighboring city of Jaffa. According to him, an Arab man murdered a Jewish girl at the Bat Yam bus stop in 1996. In retaliation, a group of Bat Yamis went to the city limits near Jaffa and started burning Arab cars and smashing windows.

“That’s why the kids, and actually me and my friends, don’t like those kinds of people.” Omri paused and then decided to clarify, “The Arab people.”

Omri went on to say that every year on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, the Arabs from Jaffa come to Bat Yam with discmen and cigarettes. “They are very disrespectful,” he said scornfully. “And they paid for it.”

They paid for it. The way he said this, it sounded like the Arab world had collectively insulted Omri’s mother.

“How did they pay for it?” I asked.

“Five years ago on Yom Kippur, they came with a jeep and started to honk the horn. And we are not allowed to drive on Yom Kippur. And people just flipped the jeep into the water,” he said, as if this were a casual occurrence. “So this is where I come from. The city where almost everyone is rightist.”

For Omri, it seemed, being “rightist” was a badge of honor. Having tough, uncompromising opinions about the Arabs made him feel tough—perhaps made him feel more “Israeli” and less an Israeli with Arab roots. Not that Omri is ashamed of his heritage or that his feelings about Arabs are all a show. The stories he told me were very real, and they did cause him pain. But I began to wonder if there wasn’t something slightly exaggerated about Omri’s “rightist” pride.

At the same time, this pride is a source of strength for him. Omri’s parents are divorced. During the months I spent in the region, he was living in Bat Yam, a lower-middle-class suburb of Tel Aviv with his mother, who works in a sunglasses store. His father does part-time gardening and electronic jobs in wealthy Tel Aviv suburbs. Omri’s home is a modest apartment in a crowded Bat Yam neighborhood where every street and building resembles the next. There was rarely a time when I didn’t drive in circles trying to find it. The neighborhood is rich with tropical plants and trees, and the gray-colored apartments are livened by clothes hanging out to dry. But the sidewalks are dirty, full of pigeon and dog droppings. Omri says the parks are local gang hangouts. One afternoon, Omri and his mother returned home to find their apartment burglarized. Now Omri’s mother blasts music when she goes out in order to throw off potential thieves.

Omri’s room is a small corner space with a dresser, a bookshelf, and a narrow bed. He has decorated his door with bumper stickers: “Oslo Is Proof: Don’t Give Them a Country”; “I Am a Patriot”; “Don’t Give Terror a Country”; and “Achud Leumi,” the logo of Israel’s National Union party. They advocate “transfer,” the removal of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to Israel’s neighboring Arab countries. Omri’s CD collection is full of Subliminal, the highly nationalistic rap artist whom some people consider a racist. The cover of one album, The Light from Zion, depicts a muddied hand gripping a Star of David. The fingers curl up out of blackness, clenched in anger. In a song called “Hope,” a reference to Israel’s national anthem Hatikva, “The Hope,” Subliminal rhymes in sharp, forceful Hebrew: “Another soldier coming back covered in the Israeli flag / Blood and tears falling down / Strong nation, we won’t leave / Cause no motherfucker can stop Israel.” Another song is entitled “Beladi,” which means “my country” in Arabic. Beladi is also the name of the Palestinian national anthem. “Zionism is in our blood,” Subliminal raps in “Beladi,” but he goes on to say that “the Jews respect Islam and Christianity / My throat is not thirsty for blood . . . I put down the Uzi and pick up the microphone / I’m dreaming of peace but I get good-bye.”

On one visit to his home, after we had met at camp, I asked Omri about the racist accusations against Subliminal.

“It’s not true!” Omri was quick to defend his hero.

“But I’ve heard that people shout ‘Death to the Arabs’ at his concerts,” I said.

“I went to his concert,” Omri replied. “And there were forty thousand people there. And the whole room started shouting this. And Subliminal told them not to say it.”

“Did you say it?”


Knowing Omri’s politics and his feelings about Arabs, especially before Seeds of Peace, I wasn’t surprised that he had participated in this type of anti-Arab tirade. And yet I simply could not picture this fifteen-year-old I had come to know so well standing among a mass of people shouting racist slurs. I asked Omri if he would do it again or if he could remain silent while forty thousand other Israelis screamed.

“I won’t do it now,” he said. To prove it, he showed me his screensaver. It was a photo from Seeds of Peace: the wide grassy field leading down to the bunkline and, through gaps in the buildings, slivers of lake.

“That camp, it did something to him!” Omri’s mother, Sima, whispered a few minutes later when Omri went to the bathroom.

“He’s really that different?” I asked.

“In some ways he’s just the same; in other ways, you’d hardly know it was the same Omri.” At that moment, Omri appeared around the corner with a skeptical look. Sima winked at me and popped back into the kitchen.

As Omri searched the Internet, I began thinking about my first real conversation with him. We were at camp and I had persuaded him to skip general swim in return for “illegal” phone privileges. Campers were not allowed to use the phone during activities, but I promised to cover for him. I wanted a chance to talk to the boy who boasted the fanciest bling. We chose a table at the back of the dining hall overlooking the lake. Perhaps it was the tranquil setting or the gentle wind, but suddenly, realistic, hard-nosed Omri was talking about transfer the way romantics speak of lost love.

“It was my dream,” he said, his large eyes drifting across the lake.

“Your dream?”

“Since I was a boy, I dreamed that the Arabs would be transferred away from here.”

“You mean from Israel?”

Omri emerged from his reverie. “That’s what I wanted, but I know it’s not going to happen. You can’t just take three million Palestinians and throw them in other countries. But”—and now he looked straight into my eyes—“it was like a dream for me. I voted for the Achud Leumi [National Union] party in the last elections.”

“I thought the voting age in Israel is eighteen,” I said, thinking about how National Union was one of the most extreme parties in the Israeli parliament. They believed the Jews rightfully owned all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and that the Arabs should be forcibly kicked out.

“It is,” Omri announced.

“Then how could you vote?”

“My mother voted for the one I chose.”

Many Israelis and Palestinians will tell you that if they had one wish, it would be to wake up tomorrow to find the other nation gone. Vanished. But I’d never known any Seed to believe in transfer as seriously as Omri or to try to make this wish come true.

From the Hardcover edition.
Jennifer Miller|Author Q&A

About Jennifer Miller

Jennifer Miller - Inheriting the Holy Land
Jennifer Miller graduated with a degree in English and Creative Writing from Brown University. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a freelance writer.

To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at www.apbspeakers.com

Author Q&A

A Talk with Jennifer Miller

INHERITING THE HOLY LAND is your personal journey through one of the most pressing conflicts of our time.  What in your life led you to delve so deeply into the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?
I grew up in a middle-class suburb of Washington DC--about as far from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as you can get.  My father worked at the State Department on the Middle East peace process, so dinner table conversations often revolved around the PLO, the Labor party, the intifada–topics that in this child’s mind fell into the horribly boring realm of “politics.”
That changed in 1993 when I watched Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin sign the Declaration of Principles for the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn.  I was fascinated with the group of green-shirted Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian teenagers sitting in the front row.  These were the first graduates of the Seeds of Peace International Camp. Two years later, I attended Seeds as part of a small American delegation and it was through this experience–and the friends I met there–that I decided to invest myself in helping to educate people about this conflict.

When you interviewed Colin Powell, he told you, “An unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dark cloud over the United States.”  Why is this and why is this topic important to all Americans?
I strongly believe that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a third-party broker and that this party must be the United States.  No other country has the same relationship with Israel as well as the ability to persuade Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, the U.S. must present itself as an impartial broker focusing on the needs and requirements of both sides.
Our role in resolving this conflict will have a direct relationship on how Arabs and Muslims view our nation for generations to come. As a democracy and the most powerful nation in the world, we have a responsibility to uphold our principles abroad–not try to spread them. I believe this is how we can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and eradicate much of the current anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

You visited places that most people never go to–Gaza, Tekoa, Ramallah, East Jerusalem, etc. What was it like to be a young Jewish American woman traveling in this region?
In the Middle East, identity is inescapable, even for an American visitor. I experienced no anti-Semitism, but some Palestinians believed my religion prevented me from being an impartial researcher. Many Israelis couldn’t understand why, as a Jew, I considered America my home and not Israel. I wasn’t used to being put in such boxes, but Israelis and Palestinians are all too familiar with the experience.
Palestinians went out of their way to be hospitable and convince me that “not all Arabs are terrorists.” At the same time, I heard a great deal of anti-U.S. government sentiment. My Palestinian friends often engaged me in political arguments where I ended up feeling like an American punching bag. These are bright young men and women who have no outlet to express their frustration and suddenly I appear–their friend, but an American nonetheless.
I tried to be vigilant of my surroundings, but my research required risk-taking. I never felt comfortable in Gaza. Only a few months before I traveled there, four American contractors were killed while driving down the main road into Gaza city. Jerusalem is equally unpredictable. Two of the cafés in which I ate were eventually blown up. One of them was a block and a half away from my apartment. When the bomb went off the walls shook.

When you went to the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) to research the textbooks taught in Palestinian schools, you were surprised to find the books locked-up in a safe. What is it about both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks that causes such controversy?
Palestinians feel that their very identity is threatened, so their books focus more on teaching nationalism than an impartial view of history. A map for kindergarten shows an outline of historic Palestine with the West Bank and Gaza depicted by dotted lines, but without names. The caption reads: Palestine. This map presents a highly confusing picture of what “Palestine” actually is. There is no internationally recognized Palestinian state, but Israelis claim such a map teaches children that Israel does not exist–that there is only Palestine.
Professor Eli Podeh at Hebrew University believes Palestinian books of today resemble Israeli books from the early years of the state. From 1948 through the 80’s, Israeli books tried to disavow a unique Palestinian identity by referring to “the Arabs of the land of Israel” instead of “Palestinians.” Today, Israeli books widely use the term “Palestinians.” At the same time, only two current Israeli text books use the word “expelled” in reference to the events of 1948. To Palestinians, this omission denies Israel’s culpability in creating 700,000 refugees.

Before going to the Middle East, you felt skeptical about the right of Jewish settlers’ to build communities in the West Bank and Gaza. Did your views change after visiting Tekoa and other settlements?
Going into my research, I had little understanding and little respect for the notion of “Greater Israel” to which so many settlers adhere. I was so skeptical of this religious conviction, in fact, that I resisted visiting Tekoa. But this is the challenge faced by each young Israeli and Palestinian who decides to reach out to the “other side.” There can be no true compromise unless you give an ear to all voices–even those that offend your sensibilities. So I went to Tekoa, listened to the people there, and came away with a greater appreciation for the convictions they hold–even if I do not share these convictions.

I was fascinated by your visit to Yasir Arafat’s compound and your subsequent interview with him just a few months before his death. What did you take away from that day?
My visit to Arafat at the Muqata was a multi-layered experience. I was struck by the destruction of his headquarters–a result a 2002 IDF campaign–and by the fact that Arafat was under virtual house arrest. I saw firsthand how difficult this made his job.
My visit with Arafat demonstrated that he truly was the symbol of the Palestinian nationalism. As such he was and will remain of great importance to his people. Having lunch with Arafat, however, made me see him as more of a caricature than an individual. By that time, he had taken a departure from reality. He related stories of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians that were figments of his imagination. What Palestinians need now is not a symbol, but a leader–someone who is pragmatic, candid about his intentions, and committed to the practical needs of his people.

INHERITING THE HOLY LAND provides perspectives not often heard when discussing this topic–the voices of young people who grew-up in the Middle East. What did you learn from the youth living with the conflict at their front door?
One afternoon, my Palestinian friend Badawi was taking me on a tour of Ramallah. In one of the poorer neighborhoods, we came across a group of teenage boys. When I asked the boys what they wanted to be when they grew up, one said he wanted to be a business man to buy more weapons to fight against Israel and another wanted to be an engineer to build better weapons. I was stunned by these comments; Badawi was pursuing degrees in both business and engineering, but he wanted to improve his nation’s infrastructure, not spread violence. When I questioned them, the boys told me that “violence is the only way to make people listen to us and respect us.”
Later, the boys begged me to get them US visas. “The United States is safe and clean,” they told me. “We want to be like American children.” I then realized that two of boys were wearing t-shirts bearing imprints of the U.S.–one said “America” and another said “Coke.” I understood then that these teenagers were not violent at heart. They had no great love for terror. They wanted to enjoy life, but unlike Badawi, who had been lucky enough to see a world outside Palestine and the conflict, these children saw a dead-end future.
The young Israelis and Palestinians I met on my journey through the Middle East are hungry for life. They want the same opportunities that most American youth have. Badawi and so many other young people demonstrated the energy, creativity, and commitment necessary to transcend their immediate circumstances–but they need help. They need their parents, educators, and leaders to take their needs much more seriously.

Omri, one of the young Israelis profiled in your book, wants to be a fighter in the Israeli Defense Forces (or as he says, “a warrior.”). With military service mandatory in Israel and so many young men and women proud to serve, do you believe that conscription prevents the younger generation from seeing an alternative to military might in working towards peace and reconciliation?
Universal Conscription isn’t the problem. Some of Israel’s most prominent leaders (Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin) built their reputation through the military but made painful concessions for peace. Young Israelis should protect their country, but they need exposure to non-military solutions to the conflict.
Before Omri met Palestinians face-to-face, he shouted “death to the Arabs” at rock concerts and advocated “transfer,” the forcible removal of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Today he is passionate about being a warrior, but he knows there is no military solution. He has found a middle ground between pragmatism and idealism.

You visited the family of a young female suicide bomber. How did you feel being in the home of a family that many would see as “terrorists” and just as many would see as “freedom fighters”?
Ayat Al-Kharas was an eighteen year old Palestinian who blew herself up in the entrance to an Israeli supermarket. Ayat’s family said they hadn’t a clue that Ayat was going to commit a bombing. Her mother expressed extreme pain at having lost her daughter. Mrs. Al-Kharas implored me: “I’m not a terrorist. I’m just like an American mom.” At the same time, Mrs. Al-Kharas was insistent on the fact that the bombing was Ayat’s personal choice. No one pressured her or incited her.
During my visit, someone turned the TV to a dubbed version of Air Force One. In this movie Russian hijackers attempt to kill the U.S. President, aboard the Presidential plane. The content of the movie made me acutely aware of my present location: I was in the house of a suicide bomber. I became conscious of an invisible line drawn between myself and everyone else in the room. The “us versus them” line. I’d like to think that Ayat’s mother saw the American president as the emblem of “good”--of democracy and freedom-- and the violent hijackers as the antithesis of all that. I’d like to think that Mrs. Al-Kharas was, as she said, “just like an American mom.” I realized, I couldn’t be sure.

You write, “There is no single action you could do to make peace, but endless ways to provoke war.” Yet, INHERITING THE HOLY LAND is a hopeful book. Is there hope in the Middle East?
INHERITING THE HOLY LAND acknowledges that creation takes a long time. You can knock down two towers in a matter of minutes; it takes much longer to construct those towers, but you gain from creation in a way that you cannot from destruction. These gains are connections between people, intellectual and technical innovation, and the creative energy that is produced from solving difficult problems. Israelis and Palestinians have embarked on the long, arduous path of creation, and they’ve made significant progress. Today Israelis and Palestinians recognize each other as legitimate peoples and nations. Today the entire world believes in the inevitability of a Palestinian state.
My book is hopeful because it proves the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the fight of good against evil. It proves that Israelis and Palestinians are not wired to hate each other. It proves that young people in both societies have real potential to rise above their immediate circumstances, if given the opportunity to do so.

What do you want readers to take away from INHERITING THE HOLY LAND?
I want readers to understand that challenging their beliefs and being receptive to unpleasant opinions and unfamiliar experiences is a kind of strength. Until I spent time with Israelis and Palestinians on their turf and listened to a wide variety of ideologies–from settlers to Palestinian Islamists to the mother of a suicide bomber–my picture was incomplete. These viewpoints and many others were difficult for me to hear. I did not agree with or accept every story. But only by confronting my biases and allowing myself to question some of the truths I’d grown up with was I able to understand the real complexity of this conflict and the basis for solving it.

From the Hardcover edition.



Advance praise for Inheriting the Holy Land

“Miller’s book provides a fresh and sparklingly well-written look at the contradictions and consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
–Madeleine Albright

“The next generation is critical to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Jennifer Miller’s important book tells you why.”
– Mahmoud Abbas

“Miller has brought her talents as a keen observer and engaging storyteller to the captivating tale of the young generation of Israelis and Palestinians.”
–Shimon Peres

“Inheriting the Holy Land underscores the importance of cross-cultural understanding and dialogue as a basis for peace and reconciliation and the power of hope and imagination to transform the future, even in the most difficult conflict environments.”
–Her Majesty Queen Noor

“Jen Miller’s personal story about young Palestinians’ and Israelis’ efforts to renounce violence and war will certainly contribute to the new atmosphere of détente in the Middle East. Their quest for mutual understanding and peace communicates a moving appeal for faith in hope.”
–Elie Wiesel

From the Hardcover edition.
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Teachers: If you'd like a printable version of this guide, download the PDF attachment at the bottom of this page.

Inheriting the Holy Land is the result of author Jennifer Miller’s involvement with an organization called Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace was founded in 1993 by John Wallach, a former diplomatic correspondent for the Hearst newspapers. After the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, Wallach conceived the idea of an international summer camp that focused on conflict resolution. Jennifer Miller, who participated in Seeds both as a camper and as a counselor, later spent six months in Israel and the occupied territories where she interviewed Israeli and Palestinian alumni of Seeds of Peace. Miller was interested in finding the lasting influences of the Seeds experience on these young people. The resulting book is an informative, anecdotal account of daily life in a region torn by violence and a presentation of the reasons for renewed hope in the next generation for a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Inheriting the Holy Land can provide an enriching and unique perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for any class that is examining world history or global issues. With the renewed outbreak of hostilities in that region in the summer of 2006, the book has become particularly timely.


Shortly after graduating from Brown University, Jennifer Miller traveled to Israel to interview Seeds of Peace alumni. She wanted to see the region and the conflict through the eyes of the generation that will inherit both the land and the conflicts surrounding it. Miller was curious to see how much of the Seeds experience stayed with these young people once they had returned to their homes and daily lives. What she discovered gave her hope that the future leaders of Palestine and Israel will find a peaceful resolution to their nations’ conflicts. Miller believes, however, that the United States must take a major role in helping this resolution become a reality.

Inheriting the Holy Land is written in an anecdotal style. The book is built around interviews with the Seeds of Peace alumni, interviews with the current leaders of Israel and Palestine, and Miller’s own observations. Miller includes a wealth of historical background, but it is scattered throughout the book, appearing during pertinent scenes. For that reason, it is important to provide background information to students before assigning this book.


discussion and writing: comprehension

Miller begins with a summary of her last days in Israel and of her attitude as she prepared
to return home.
1. Why does Miller describe her journey from Gaza to Tel Aviv as “unimaginable for most Israelis and Palestinians”?
2. What two important provisions are needed for the journey?
3. What connection does she draw between the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
4. What has convinced her that “hatred, mistrust, and bias are learned”?
5. What is the only way to understand or solve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis?
6. What group does Miller believe can solve the conflict? Why?
7. What does she identify as the greatest lesson the adults of the region can teach the youth?

“Introduction: An Antipolitics Kid”
Vocabulary: polemic, shisha, intifada
Miller describes her background and the way she became involved with Seeds of Peace.
1. What aspects of Miller’s background led to her interest in the Middle East?
2. What are her goals in writing the book?

“An Unusual Friendship”
Vocabulary: Star of David, Yom Kippur
Miller visits an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy who became good friends at the Seeds of Peace camp.
1. Describe Omri.
2. Describe Mohammed.
3. What obstacles stand in the way of their continued friendship?
4. What do the Star of David and the army tag represent to Omri?
5. What does Mohammed’s necklace represent to Mohammed?
6. What does Mohammed’s necklace represent to Omri?
7. Why did the U.N. partition of Palestine in the 1940s fail?
8. Why do Arabs call the 1948 war of independence “The Catastrophe”?
9. What happened to the Arab Muslims who lived in the territory that became Israel?
10. What threatening clause was removed from the Palestinian Charter in 1998?
11. What attitudes do the boys express concerning the city of Jerusalem?
How are their attitudes alike? How are they different?

“Our Dream, Jerusalem”
Miller examines the effects of a bombing in Jerusalem.
1. Why didn’t Omri call Mohammed after the bombing in 2003? Why didn’t Mohammed call Omri?
2. Which boy does Miller seem to think should have made the first move? Why?
3. Who was Yitzhak Rabin? Who is Benjamin Netanyahu? How did their attitudes during their respective terms as Israeli prime minister differ?
4. What was unique about the Seeds of Peace camp in 1997?
5. Why have Seeds of Peace officials never again stopped camp in response to Middle Eastern violence?
6. What bombing took place two blocks from Miller’s Jerusalem home?

“A Tourist in the Old City”
Mohammed takes Miller on a tour of Jerusalem.
1. By what other name is the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem known?
2. What is an Arab souk?
3. What is the main entrance to the Arab part of Jerusalem called?
4. Why does Mohammed think of al-Ram, rather than the Old City, as his home?
5. What does Haram al-Sharif mean? What do Jews call this Jerusalem site?
6. What is Waqf?
7. What controversy surrounds the Haram?
8. Why is Miller not surprised that some Palestinians celebrated the 9/11 bombings in the U.S.?
9. How does Miller state the basic belief of American negotiators (p. 38)?
10. What has been the attitude of Arab governments toward the Palestinians?

“Textbook Debates”
Miller examines the curricula at Israeli and Palestinian schools.
1. What conclusion does Miller reach concerning the choice of The Merchant of Venice as the play at a Palestinian high school?
2. What is important about Reem’s father?
3. What does Miller see as the root of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis? How do the Palestinian and Israeli educational systems exacerbate this problem?
4. What nations controlled the curricula in Palestinian schools before the Oslo Accords in 1994?
5. What three recommendations did the CDC make about the curricula in Palestinian schools?
6. How are religion and religious beliefs addressed in Palestinian schools?
What kind of reaction has this treatment received?
7. What different views of women are expressed by Mohammed and Tamara?
8. According to Miller, why do Palestinian textbooks “educate for identity as much as for knowledge” (p. 55)?
9. What is the CMIP? How are its reports viewed?
10. What does Miller see as the “main difficulty with Palestinian education” (p. 61)?
11. What basic conflict does Israel face in its history curriculum? What are the arguments for and against each position?
12. How is religion handled in Israeli schools and textbooks as compared with its treatment in Palestinian schools and books?
13. Through what three stages has Israeli education gone since the founding of Israel in 1948?
14. On what point concerning the 1948 war do Palestinian and Israeli texts differ? How?

“Forever a Citizen, Never Israeli”
Vocabulary: Hizbollah, Hamas
Miller examines the experience of Arabs living in Israel.
1. What is Yara’s background?
2. How is the Arab minority treated? Give specific examples.
3. What opinion, shared by many Jews, does Omri express? What is his justification?
4. What does Miller believe is necessary for a peaceful solution to the conflict?
5. How does Nardin view herself? What obligation does she recognize? What obligation does she not recognize?
6. What possibility is foreseen by Jews who call Israeli Arabs a “demographic threat” (p. 78)?
7. How are Arabs responsible for their second-class status? How is the Israeli government responsible?
8. Why did the Arab community abstain from the 2001 national elections?
9. What happened to Asel Asleh?
10. What was the official explanation given by the government?

“A Different Kind of Orthodox”
Vocabulary: orthodox
Miller visits and interviews Orthodox Jews.
1. What field trip did Miller make at the age of twelve?
2. What differences in lifestyle was Miller surprised to find?
3. Who “shattered” Miller’s image of Orthodox Judaism? How?
4. What is the status of the religion of Judaism in Israel?
5. How is Omri different?
6. What are the characteristics of Sari’s Orthodox lifestyle?
7. Why is there tension between secular Israelis and Israelis who are Orthodox Jews? How does this tension affect the basic purpose of Israel?
8. What is the significance of rebellious teenagers and the golden bull?
9. How can Israel respond if and when the Palestinian population outnumbers the Jewish population?

Vocabulary: orthodox
Miller visits a Jewish settlement on the West Bank.
1. How do the Jewish settlers of the West Bank and Gaza view the U.S. opinion of them?
2. What territories did Israel win in 1967? From whom?
3. Based on U.N. Resolution 242 and the Fourth Geneva Convention, what is the status of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza? Why?
4. What justification do the Israelis give for the settlements?
5. What is the attitude of the sheikh of Wadi Nis toward the settlements?
6. What do the settlers call the West Bank?
7. What is Kayla’s attitude toward the Palestinians and peace?
8. What is Rabbi Menachem Froman’s view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
9. How does the rabbi interpret the Muslim phrase Allahu Akbar?
10. What conclusion does Miller reach after her conversation with Rabbi Froman?

Miller visits a Palestinian town in the West Bank.
1. When Miller visited Ramallah, why was Arafat “trapped” in his headquarters?
2. Describe Ramallah.
3. What were the economic results of the second intifada and Operation Defensive Shield?
4. What personal experiences concerning the occupation and its aftermath did Reem and her family describe?

“Soldiers and Seeds”
Miller interviews Seeds of Peace alumni who have served in the past or who still serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
1. What groups in Israel are exempt from compulsory military service?
2. Which earlier organization established precedent for the IDF? When and how did that organization operate? How was it different from other contemporary organizations?
3. What advantages helped Israel win a victory in 1948?
4. Why is Israel’s modern army one of the most competent in the world?
5. How did the Israeli attitude toward the military change in the 1990s and again after 2000? Why?
6. What was Yoyo’s attitude toward his Palestinian friends from Seeds of Peace when he began to prepare for his military service?
7. Describe the conscription process.
8. How did his military service change Uri?
9. What is Yoyo’s criticism of the army’s role?
10. Who is Ami Ayalon? What does he believe is the political problem?
11. How does Yoyo justify the IDF’s tactics?
12. How does reality conflict with the Seeds of Peace experience?

“Through the Gates of Gaza”
Miller visits Palestinians in Gaza.
1. What is Erez Crossing?
2. Describe the checkpoint process.
3. What tactics were used during the first intifada?
4. What does hamas mean in Arabic? How did the organization begin and change during and after the first intifada?
5. Why did Israel not trust the 2003 hudna (truce) with Hamas?
6. What teachings of the Koran seem to contradict the ideas and practices of Hamas?
7. Why do some Christian Palestinians support Hamas?
8. What factors led Hamas to become a more political entity in 2005?
9. What effects of refugee life on the children did Miller encounter in the refugee camp?
10. What attitudes toward the U.S. are expressed by Palestinians in Gaza?
11. Miller describes her reaction to Gaza as one of “disgust.” With what and whom is she disgusted? Why?

“All About Abu”
Miller interviews and profiles the current generation of Palestinian leaders known as “Abu.”
1. What does Fatah mean in Arabic?
What is its aim?
2. Why does Mohammed Dahlan feel that Israel’s demands are unreasonable?
3. Why do Israelis respect the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Jordanian King Hussein?
4. What does Miller believe was the reason for Arafat’s “inaction” at the Camp David summit in 2000?
5. In what ways do Palestinians perceive the Palestinian Authority as an organization that steals from them? Is there evidence that this perception is true?
6. What does Miller mean by “insiders” and “outsiders” in the Palestinian world? How is Mohammed Dahlan a “hybrid”?
7. What does Ruba see as the problem with traditional Palestinian leadership? What advantage do younger Palestinians have?
8. Who are the Samaritans? What is their status?
9. Who are the Neturei Karta? What is their stand on Israel?
10. What did Miller learn in her interview with Arafat?
11. What is the relationship between the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority and the growing popularity of radical groups such as Hamas?
12. Why does Qaddura Faris believe Palestinian leaders must understand Israel’s language and history?

“Clinton’s Applause”
Vocabulary: coalition, cynicism, kibbutz
Miller examines the current state of the peace process.
1. Why was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin seen as a tragedy for the peace process?
2. What was the Atalena? What connection did Rabin have to it?
3. Explain what is meant by a coalition government. What are the weaknesses of such a government?
4. How is the career of Gila Gamliel typical of Israeli politicians? How does this process contribute to the public cynicism toward politics?
5. What threat does the cynicism of young people present?
6. What are the strengths and weaknesses of someone like Shimon Peres in Israel’s current situation?
7. What agreement did the two major political parties in Israel make in 2005?
8. Who is Yassi Beilin? What actions has he taken for peace? How is he perceived in Israel?
9. According to Barak, what is the desire of the “silent majority” in Israel?

“Hope for the Holy Land”
Vocabulary: meritocracy
Miller looks for reasons to hope that a peaceful resolution can be found.
1. Why does Miller consider peace a creative process?
2. What effect did the Seeds of Peace experience have on Mohammed? On Omri?
3. How did Seeds of Peace give Dalal and others an “alternative worldview” (p. 234)?
4. What conclusions does Miller reach about Ayat, the suicide bomber?
5. Does Miller agree that “‘in the end, negotiation will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not fighting’” (p. 238)? How?
6. What connection does Miller see between Israeli policies and the growth of anti-Semitism worldwide?
7. For what “domestic reason” should Israel pursue negotiation?
8. What questions does Miller believe young Israelis and Palestinians ask that their leaders do not?
9. Why does Miller believe that the boys in Ramallah lack hope?
10. Why does Miller believe that the young people in the Camp David photo are “the ones who really matter” (p. 244)?

“Epilogue: Reflections of America”
Miller reflects on her experiences in the Middle East.
1.What conclusions concerning America does Miller reach in her self-reflection?

discussion and writing: discussion
1. Based on the experiences of Omri and Mohammed, what obstacles stand in the way of peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
2. Do you see similarities between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the racial tensions in the U.S. (e.g., tensions caused by black-white conflicts and by current issues concerning illegal immigration)? Explain.
3. American organizations host various camps such as Seeds of Peace for children from similar situations. What does America’s multicultural society have that regions such as the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and India and Pakistan, for example, do not?
4. Palestinians are in a sense “men without a country.” What does this mean for them in day-to-day terms? What repercussions go along with this lack of identity?
5. On the basis of the opinions expressed in this book, what seems to be the attitude of the rest of the world toward the U.S.? How is that perception incorrect?
6. Miller discusses the biases in Palestinian and Israeli textbooks and educational systems. How do American texts and schools handle the issues of the
Middle East? Are there biases apparent in our materials?
7. What role can or should education play in bringing about a peaceful settlement to the conflict in the Middle East?
8. On pages 99 and 100, Miller discusses the very real threat posed to Israel by demographics. In light of this reality, what are the options for Israel? What are the pros and cons of each option?
9. Is it valid to say that Seeds of Peace does for Israeli and Palestinian young people what the integration of public schools did for American youth? Explain.
10. Read the chapter “Clinton’s Applause.” What similarities do you see between the American and Israeli political
arenas? What differences?
11. On pages 243 and 244, Miller discusses changes in the Palestinian government after Arafat’s death. How did the election in 2005 of a government led by Hamas change her predictions?
12. Do you agree with the conclusions Miller reaches concerning America’s role in the Middle East? Explain.
13. What effect do you think the events of the summer of 2006 will have on the young people in the book and on the peace process in general?


1. Miller’s timeline begins in 1947. Ask students to construct a timeline going back to the ancient and medieval periods for a complete understanding of the history of this region. Assign topics for oral reports based on this research.
2. Miller mentions films such as Exodus and Not Without My Daughter. Watch these films in class and analyze the depiction of Israeli and Arab culture and politics presented in each.
3. Research one of the historical or political figures mentioned in the book. Report on this person’s contributions to or actions against peace.
4. Watch documentaries such as the PBS video Wounded Spirits in the Promised Land for additional perspective on the Middle East.
5. Ask students to compose letters to the President or to their Congressmen or Senators that express the students’ opinions concerning the American responsibility in the Middle East.
6. Draw a map of Israel and the occupied territories and identify the cities and towns that Miller visited. Indicate which areas are predominantly Israeli and which are predominantly Palestinian.


1. Research the ancient incident at Masada. How does that incident relate to the mindset of the modern state of Israel?
2. Read other books that deal with religious or ethnic conflict, such as Covenant by James Michener, Trinity by Leon Uris, or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Compare the attitudes, sources of conflict, and causes for hope that are depicted in these novels with those of the situation in the Middle East.
3. Read other books that deal with the state of Israel, such as Dawn by Elie Wiesel or Exodus by Leon Uris. Do these books give you more or less reason to hope?
4. Research one or more of the Arab-Israeli Wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973). How did each of these conflicts affect the peace process?
5. Research Seeds of Peace and other similar organizations. If possible, interview people who have participated in these programs.
6. If possible, interview Americans of Middle Eastern or Jewish backgrounds. What insight can they give you concerning the situation in the Middle East?


The Gun and the Olive Branch by Thomas Paine
Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Norman G. Finkelstein
One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate by Tom Segev
The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust by Tom Segev
Death as a Way of Life: From Oslo to the Geneva Agreement by David Grossman and Haim Watzman
Embracing the Infidel by Behzad Yaghmaian
Dawn by Elie Wiesel
Exodus by Leon Uris
Trinity by Leon Uris
Covenant by James Michener
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Edges: O Israel, O Palestine by Leora Skolkin-Smith
The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg


Susan Corley teaches high school history in South Carolina. Her experience is with many different levels of students in grades 9-12. She has also taught high school English and served as an adjunct for local colleges.

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