TEL AVIV — I learn most of what I know about the Middle East from the people who live here, and I was a bit shocked when I discovered, years ago, that many reporters—especially wire agency reporters—absorb most of what they know, think, and believe about the region from other journalists. I didn’t know anyone, local or foreign, in the Middle East when I first got here, and I initially had to rely on the people I met randomly in cafes and bars and in person via the Internet to teach me what’s going on and how the place works. All my information came from the street. Most of my understanding still comes from the street—not from on high, not from newspapers or press releases, and not from foreign reporters who do not live here. Eventually I worked my way up to the prime minister’s office in Lebanon, and I’ve almost gotten that far now in Israel, but my real education has taken place during long sessions in cafes and bars with Arabs, Kurds, and Israelis.
Benjamin Kerstein’s name will appear on the Acknowledgements page of my book when it comes out in the spring because he has taught me an enormous amount about Israel during the time I have known him. I met him five years ago when I first came here from Lebanon, when Israel was still a partially Arabized abstraction in my eyes. He was one of the first people who humanized the place for me, and he taught me more than he knows about the Israeli people and how they see themselves and their place on earth and in history. The parts of my book that take place here are better than they would be if I did not know him.
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