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Review: Matt Rees, Cain's Field

November 18, 2004

Matt Rees, Jerusalem bureau chief for Time Magazine, has been reporting from the Middle East for nearly a decade. Residing prominently on his bookshelves are an English-Hebrew version of the Old Testament and a copy of the Koran, an indication of his approach and of his new book.

The Funding for Peace Coalition (FPC) met with Rees a few days before his book, Cain's Field, was launched. His native Welsh accent has faded with his travels. Yet it is immediately apparent from the book's opening lines that Rees's background is essential to his understanding of the Middle East and how he sees that conflicts can be resolved.

Cain's Field offers a unique approach to the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Rees contends that both societies are paralyzed by a number of internal conflicts. These issues must be resolved before either side will be able to work towards a realistic peace agreement.

To substantiate his theory, Rees introduces his readers to a fascinating set of characters, whom he has met over the past decade. Palestinian gang leaders in Rafiah, who attacked Israeli troops because the 2003 Road Map threatened their livelihood of smuggling. Israeli psychiatrists treating Holocaust survivors, whose derisory treatment was hushed up for decades. Senior PA officials, whose efforts to protect the peace process are crushed by their own leaders. A Jewish settler trying to validate his son's murder at the hands of a terrorist - by building more Jewish homes in the Palestinian territories.

Readers, including those well informed regarding the conflict, will recognize that this book is a treasure trove of information. Peoples from both sides of the fence - a phrase to be applied with increasing caution these days - can use this book to learn not just about the "enemy". Subtlely, through his observations, Rees brings both Palestinian and Israeli supporters to question if their own side is playing the game properly.

Cain's Field is not another mundane history of the Middle East, nor does it end with any predictable stab at a comprehensive peace plan. Moreover, it is not written as "pro" or "anti". For example, just as Rees describes death from torture under Arafat's PA, he swiftly reminds the reader that the past record of Israel's secret service was open to question.

FPC members will welcome the author's insights into key elements of the PA. Rees describes in detail the efforts of several Fatah officials, who strived towards a sincere peace based on mutual recognition. At the same time, it was evident by the mid 1990s that these people became isolated individuals, as the centralist strangulatory grip of Arafat took control.

In fact, the book's tone is set early on: "If the struggle with Israel was a malady that was difficult to remedy, Arafat was an old-time quack doctor, leeching and bleeding his people closer to their demise, even as he professed himself to be the living cure."

Rees explains how in June 2002, at the peak of the Intifada and Palestinian poverty, Arafat sent $2 million to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs in Gaza, while only $30,000 was allocated for the salaries of all official PA employees. Those familiar with the work of FPC and its report Managing European Taxpayers' Money: Supporting The Palestinian Arabs - A Study In Transparency will recall the speeches of Commissioner Patten and his comrades. They completely denied, and continue to deny, that the PA payroll included such terrorists.

And this is where one of the book's truly pertinent messages comes through. Cain's Field clearly portrays how most of the Palestinian leadership, a group that has been together for decades, has promoted the cause of the Palestinians, whilst subjecting its people to dejection and misery. As Rees observed in his conversation with FPC, if you ask a Palestinian what is the root of his problems, he will quickly use the word "occupation". If you dig a little deeper, the phrases of nepotism, corruption and autocracy come rushing through.

Chairman Arafat may have left the scene, but his successor will be someone who has survived and prospered through such despotism.

Cain's Field ends on a positive note, possibly sparked by a basic belief that good wins out in the end. Rees looks to Nizr Hassan from Nazareth and to Kobi Oz from Sderot. Both have replaced violent protest with forms of art, at the same time achieving a sense of personal identity. For Rees, only when this level of confidence is reached, a society can begin to negotiate with those issues unsettling its security.

Ironically, as the interview took place, a number of prominent Welsh politicians had just finished their collective visits to the region. The trips were focused on the Palestinian territories. Some were to give press interviews, reinforcing stereotypes and inconsistent points of view, with no concession to mutual context.

Rees believes that the way to peace lies through understanding and communication - each side of both of itself and of the other. He has provided an excellent account of the contradictory internal forces at play within Israeli and Palestinian societies. Travelers, commentators and politicians would be well served by reading Rees's analyses before they attempt to interpret the agenda of the Middle East.

Click here to read FPC's interview with Matt Rees. Cain's Field by Matt Rees is published by Free Press at US$26.00. For further information, you are advised to consult www.cainsfield.com.

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