I finished reading this a couple of days ago, but I need to put some thinking time in before I reviewed it. I can see why people are angry about it. I can see why it has attracted a lot of negative press. But I think you should read it. I really do.
Ben takes us through three broad sections. The first relates the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It tells the story of the rise of Israel, and the subsequent displacement of the Palestinian people. It is a powerful story, powerfully told, using quotations from early Israeli leaders and interviews with Palestinians affected. What comes across most clearly is the awareness that the Zionist project would require the eviction of the Palestinian people if it was to succeed - and great lengths were gone to in order to ensure that it did succeed. At the end of the section, I was angry. Very angry.
The second section has to do with the current apparatus of Israeli apartheid. Ben talks us through the situation on the ground for Arabs within Israel and those in the OPT, again drawing on a wide range of sources. It is painful reading. When I got to the end of this section, I felt more or less despair. How could anything change such a system?
And so the third section, which outlined action that I could take, was great. Ben refuses to allow us to walk away because the situation is too complex, or the solutions too distant. We must do something; I must do something. Ask me in a few months what I've done - I know that I am too prone to laziness, and am likely to let this challenge pass me by.
After the final section is an excellent FAQ, which helped to answer some questions I had about the topic, and should probably be made available online if at all possible. It would by itself lend a lot of clarity to discussions of the issue.
Ben has been criticised for writing a one-sided story. It does come across as one-sided. But then, it seems pretty clear that the reality of the situation is also one-sided. The book does acknowledge Palestinian violence, and perhaps is not as clear in denouncing it as some would like. But the picture here is of an occupied people fighting against their occupiers - is that really so clear cut, so obviously morally wrong? I suspect that only those who have never experienced the situation could say so.
Ben has also been criticised for quoting innacurately. I don't know whether that's true or not; Ben has defended himself here. But it doesn't ultimately matter all that much.
Because the reason people are so angry at this book is because it makes the one critique of Israeli policy that is worth making, and that goes to the heart of the issue. Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. In other words, it defines itself in ethno-religious terms. Only Jews can be Israeli nationals; all Jews are welcome in Israel. Imagine if someone suggested that Britain should define itself in terms of a particular ethnic identity! Oh, wait, that would be the BNP - and we don't like them, right?
Ultimately, Ben argues that Israel/Palestine must be a place where Jews and Palestinians are equal under the law, and a state which exists for the good of all its citizens. This is much more radical than the two-state solution, much more difficult to move towards than even that mirage. But anything else enshrines racism as a successful nation building strategy.
The world really doesn't want to go there.