The revealing story of a street “at the epicenter of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.”
In his first book, Wall Street Journal national security reporter Nissenbaum explores the history of Assael Street in the mixed Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor. Jewish on one side and Muslim on the other, Assael Street was once the literal dividing line between Israel and Jordan. Now, it is no longer divided by barbed wire as it once was, but it is fiercely divided by religion, culture, and politics. The author does an admirable job examining the complexities of this microcosm of the conflict, remaining basically neutral and unbiased. Indeed, he manages to point out both the shared tragedy and the shared absurdity of the larger situation personified by Assael Street. Humorous stories pepper the book—e.g., a United Nations–led cease-fire to search for a dying woman’s dentures, lost in no man’s land by accident in 1956, or an international court deciding the fate of wandering livestock. Nissenbaum is not afraid to point out simple obstinacy and intractability among both individuals and entire governing bodies. Yet this does not change or lessen the real tragedy of people who were once neighbors being made into strangers through a wider geopolitical drama. The author chronicles a number of households that have lived, sometimes for decades, with the real-life consequences of the Arab-Israeli conflict, leading to strained relationships with those who are literally closest to them. The book is not entirely pessimistic, however, in that Nissenbaum also chronicles those working for positive change in the neighborhood and those who build constructive neighborhood relations one personal relationship at a time. Yet the reality of unending conflict pervades the book: “If there is to be an Israeli state living alongside a Palestinian one, the line has to be drawn somewhere,” he writes. That somewhere is Assael Street.
A must-read for anyone interested in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian drama.