With an impressive record of recent dispatches from Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon under his byline, Michael Totten is now blogging on his experiences in Israel and his perceptions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And, not surprisingly, it is hands-down the best journalism I have read on the region in many years. Read his latest work, in which he reports on the situation at the Israeli-Lebanese border from both sides and I'm sure you'll agree. Then hit his PayPal button and support his continuing efforts to provide thoughtful reporting and analysis on the Middle East.
Here is an excerpt:
The lieutenant was easily ten years younger than me. But he was so ground down from world-weariness he sounded like a man 30 years older who hadn't slept for three days.
“Any minute now something huge could break out," he said. "I am afraid to go home and leave my soldiers. When Hezbollah decides to do something, they do it. And they’re pretty good at it.”
"What do you think they'll do next?" I said.
“I have no idea," he said. "They could do anything. Kidnapping. Sniper.”
"How do you feel about that?" I said.
“Well,” he said. “You get pretty cynical about it after a while.”
“Do you think they’re watching us?” Lisa said.
“They are watching you right at this second,” the lieutenant said. “You are definitely being photographed. It’s possible you’re being watched through a sniper rifle.”
To say I felt naked and exposed at that moment would be a real understatement. I felt like my skin was invisible, that psychopaths were boring holes with their eyes straight to the core of my being. At the same time, I knew they did not see me as a person. They saw me as a potential massacre target.
In an earlier post, he compares the vibe in Israel to that of the Arab countries he has visited:
Arab countries have a certain feel. They’re masculine, relaxed, worn around the edges, and slightly shady in a Sicilian mobster sort of way. Arabs are wonderfully and disarmingly charming. Israel felt brisk, modern, shiny, and confident. It looked rich, powerful, and explicitly Jewish. I knew I had been away from home a long time when being around Arabs and Muslims felt comfortably normal and Jews seemed exotic.
First impression are just that, though. They tend to be crazily out of whack and subject to almost instant revision. Israel, I would soon find out, is a lot more like the Arab and Muslim countries than it appears at first glance. It’s not at all a little fragment of the West that is somehow weirdly displaced and on the wrong continent. It’s Middle Eastern to the core, and it has more in common with Lebanon than anywhere else I have been. The politics and the history are different, of course. But once I got settled in Tel Aviv I didn’t feel like I had ventured far from Beirut at all.
Totten recently considered his goals as a reporter, did the math, and found out he could survive as a citizen journalist choosing his own assignments and working directly for his readers vs. trying to get published via the usual media outlets. He is willing and eager to continue this experiment in "non-corporate writing" so long as he can get financial support from his readers (that's us). I'm game, and I hope you'll be as well.