They met in 1990 during the first Palestinian uprising—one was an American Jew who served as a prison guard in the largest prison in Israel, the other, his prisoner, Rafiq, a rising leader in the PLO. Despite their fears and prejudices, they began a dialogue there that grew into a remarkable friendship—and now a remarkable book. It is a book that confronts head-on the issues dividing the Middle East, but one that also shines a ray of hope on that dark, embattled region.
Jeffrey Goldberg, now an award-winning correspondent for The New Yorker, moved to Israel while still a college student. When he arrived, there was already a war in his heart—a war between the magnetic pull of tribe and the equally determined pull of the universalist ideal. He saw the conflict between the Jews and Arabs as the essence of tragedy, because tragedy is born not in the collision of right and wrong, but of right and right.
Soon, as a military policeman in the Israeli army, he was sent to the Ketziot military prison camp, a barbed-wire city of tents and machine gun towers buried deep in the Negev Desert. Ketziot held six thousand Arabs, the flower of the Intifada: its rock-throwers, knifemen, bomb-makers, and propagandists. He realized that this was an extraordinary opportunity to learn from them about themselves, especially because among the prisoners may have been the future leaders of Palestine.
Prisoners is an account of life in that harsh desert prison—mean, overcrowded, and violent—and of Goldberg's extraordinary dialogue with Rafiq, which continues to this day.
We hear their accusations, explanations, fears, prejudices, and aspirations. We see how their relationship deepened over the years as Goldberg returned to Washington, D.C., where Rafiq, quite coincidentally, had become a graduate student, and as the Middle East cycled through periods of soaring hope and ceaseless despair. And we see again and again how these two men—both of them loyal sons of their warring peoples—confront their religious, cultural, and political differences in ways that allowed them to finally acknowledge a true, if necessarily tenuous, friendship.
A riveting, deeply affecting book: spare, impassioned, energetic, and unstinting in its candor about the truths that lie buried within the animosities of the Middle East.