Helen Schary Motro

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Maneuvering between the Headlines: An American Lives through the Intifada

REVIEWS, PRESS RELEASE, & SYNOPSIS

REVIEWS

Motro's book is a lucid and heartbreaking account of what has happened to "everyday life" in Israel in the years since the eruption of the "Second Intifada" in 2000. … More than simply an account of lives devastated by an endless cycle of bombing and recrimination, the book records in detail the way in which violence has eroded Israel's civil society, whether wielded against it or in its support.
-PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

A revealing glimpse of everyday life shaped by pervasive violence, from an American-born wife and mother living in a Tel Aviv suburb… Motro’s passionate account is … a compelling, up-close look at a conflict too often seen only in TV news bites and blaring headlines.
- KIRKUS REVIEWS

Motro's sensitive personal account of daily life in Israel is driven by an intense beat, constantly illuminating the real life drama of Israelis, Palestinians, and expatriate Americans caught up in a momentous struggle for a peaceful existence. A must read for those who want to understand the human dimension of this conflict.
- Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institute

Maneuvering between the Headlines brilliantly captures the contradictions and high emotions of a transplanted American's life in Israel during the Intifada. It is a beautiful and remarkable book.
- Laura Kalman, Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara and Fulbright Research Professor, Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, 2001-2002

Motro has painted an evocative, bittersweet landscape of two peoples' unfulfilled aspirations for peace, and the crushing impact that violence has on their daily struggles. She takes the "headlines" of the day and shows us the humanity behind the body counts and casualty figures; in so doing, the reader becomes an egaged observer in this highly sensitive quest for meaning in the Israel-Palestinian tragedy.
- Ambassador Richard Roth, formerly Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy, Tel Aviv, Israel


This lively, elegantly written personal account shares one American's experience of the effects of the Intifada and the Arab-Israeli conflict on her life, work, and family. Rich in detail and human relationships, this memoir juxtaposes terrifying and heartbreaking losses with instances of ordinary and extraordinary compassion, making Motro's Maneuvering Between the Headlines a necessary supplement to the news and an antidote to the numbing confusion and despair inspired by headlines alone.
- Lori Lefkovitz, Gottesman Professor of Gender and Judaism and Director of Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women's and Gender Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The real stories behind the headlines
Closeup looks at daily life during the intifada, the lives of child soldiers

By Carol des Lauriers Cieri

These are the stories we don't always want to read. Crisp, objective news reports are easy by comparison. They rattle off facts and statistics - a war here, a settlement agreement there - and ask little of us. But these books describe the human experience behind those reports, and that is another matter altogether. These are stories of sights and sounds and smells. Stories of anguish and fear.

We are moved, and we should be: The human cost of wars and failed settlement agreements is devastating. It deserves our attention, our concern, our response.

Helen Schary Motro, an American lawyer and columnist who has occasionally written for this paper, moved to Israel 20 years ago with her husband, a cardiologist and a native Israeli. They have three daughters.

"Maneuvering between the Headlines" tells the story of what life there has been like for her and her family and friends. "Since the Intifada started," she writes, "there have been so many bombings that it is impossible to keep them straight."

How can one support bombs when trying to live among them? While the book is not a political diatribe, the writer touches on her own politics: "I didn't fit the profile of the hard-line American settler living in the occupied territories, or supporting them.... Many Americans who have moved to Israel form the background of the peace movement. I am far from any activism, but I am with them in my sympathies and in my writing."

She aptly describes daily life as a surreal blend of the almost determinedly normal, interspersed with episodes of sheer terror. She writes of waiting in anguish the afternoon her husband was due at the very place the deadliest suicide bomb to date went off, not knowing (in those days before cellphones), that he had rescheduled his appointment.

Schary Motro's essays read more like a blog than a book, as she describes the consequences of daily choices, both personal and political. In the pressure-cooker that is Israel, there is nothing abstract about either one.

"When you see a restaurant you have passed a thousand times turn into a burnt-out gutted shell, and blood on a sidewalk you've walked, and when describing it, you say, 'It's right across the street from that little store where I always bought the children's shoes,' " she writes, "that's when violence is suddenly no longer theoretical."
-CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR


THE JERUSALEM POST
Waiting for Peace
By Judith Colp Rubin
While bookstore shelves groan with titles dealing with Israel's history and politics, there is still plenty of room for a book that describes daily life here, especially over the tension-filled last few years. It is that space that Maneuvering Between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada helps fill.
Author Helen Schary Motro has excellent credentials for undertaking this task: She has lived here for over 20 years and so has personally witnessed the nation's transformation. She leads a privileged life, having dined with then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a small gathering at his home, but is also a typical Israeli mother who worries whether it is safe to let her teenage daughter go to the mall. As an immigrant from the United States, she can also view Israeli society from a much-needed distance. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she is a prize-winning columnist with an eye for detail and an eloquent writing style.
The reader learns straightaway that Motro is a member of the left wing who is often critical of her adopted country. In the beginning of the book she writes: "Having arrived on a mix of romanticism and Second Generation Holocaust shock, I looked around me at the State of Israel the eve of its fiftieth anniversary in 1998 and observed that at 50 I was overweight and so was the state of Israel."
She is disgusted by what she views as the nation's transformation from "egalitarian socialist model to megacapitalism" and greatly dislikes Likud politicians like Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. A central question for her is whether Israel will deal with its "conflict" with the Palestinians within "the great Jewish tradition of justice and righteousness" or whether it will "choose the path of jingoism and militarism." Motro greatly fears Israel will choose the latter and tries to be one of those helping push it the other way.
But those who might be tempted to pass off the book as the work of another "Israel basher" would be doing Motro a disservice. She comes off as genuine when she writes, "For all its deficiencies, I still view Israel as a miracle. There are so many instances of great humanism, great culture and great vision."
Motro is under no illusions about her ability to change things. Modest, even at times self-deprecating, she realizes that her attempts to help the peace process have amounted to just attending "scraggly" peace marches, buying olive oil smuggled out of Palestinian areas and writing articles that appeal only to the already converted. During a visit to Jerusalem, she enters a taxi and upon discovering the driver is a Palestinian, hops out in fear. Deeply mortified by her actions, she admits that she would likely do it again.
"I can no longer whitewash my true colors. I am a casualty of the occupation and the Intifada it caused - and for that I ask the driver's pardon. I used to be just waiting for peace. Since that abortive ride I am also waiting for my conscience to give me peace."
The aspect of life here that gives her hope is the everyday interaction between Arabs and Jews, her personal story of which is a centerpiece of the book. In 1988, she met Jamal el-Durrah, a Palestinian construction worker from Gaza who helped do renovation on her home in a Tel Aviv suburb. Motro daily chatted in Hebrew with el-Durrah and gave him her children's old clothes and toys. Thirteen years later, el-Durrah became an international celebrity when his 12-year-old son, Muhammad, became one of the few Palestinian victims of the second intifada in 2001. The image of Muhammad lying in his father's arms as they were crouched against a wall in Gaza caught in a gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators was seen in newspapers worldwide. Who actually killed Muhammad remains a subject of dispute. Palestinians contend he was intentionally targeted by Israeli soldiers, while an Israeli army study concluded that he was caught in crossfire and likely even felled by Palestinian bullets.
But Motro is not interested in getting into that debate. It is the story of herself and el-Durrah, two of the "millions of people of goodwill behind the headlines" in Israel that interests her, and ultimately makes her book compelling.


PRESS RELEASE

MANEUVERING BETWEEN THE HEADLINES: AN AMERICAN LIVES THROUGH THE INTIFADA by Helen Schary Motro
Other Press | Hardcover | July 2005 | $20 | ISBN: 1-59051-159-X

Amidst the heartbreak of life in today's strife-torn Israel, MANEUVERING BETWEEN THE HEADLINES: AN AMERICAN LIVES THROUGH THE INTIFADA is a humanistic memoir of the never-ending hope for eventual co-existence and peace.
Award winning columnist and lawyer Helen Schary Motro's numerous publications include The New York Times, Newsweek, and Christian Science Monitor. Born in New York City, Motro has spent the past twenty years in Israel with her husband and children.
Motro's life is forever changed when she opens her newspaper in 2000 to the infamous photo of the very first child killed in the Second Intifada as he lay cradled in his father's arms – with the stunning realization that the father is a Palestinian who had worked building her home and whom she had grown to know and respect: "I recall Jamal beside another wall, one which he had built with his own hands. I pass Jamal's wall every day. It is in my garden."
The book is both witness to and documentation of contemporary Israeli history through the most personal of lenses – her attendance at the peace rally where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated, her reluctant acceptance of the gun her husband keeps for self-defense, her anxiety when her law students are called away for army reserve duty, her sorrow as the trail of wounded and dead continues to grow, her worry how to give her daughter enough freedom for a normal adolescence and still keep her safe. Painting both Israelis and Palestinians in a humanistic light, it depicts in vivid detail the absurdities to which hatred can lead, as well as the continued efforts of dedicated individuals through the darkest days to encourage both sides to re-connect.
Free of polemics or dogma, MANEUVERING BETWEEN THE HEADLINES eloquently portrays the tragedy and beauty of the Promised Land.

Helen Schary Motro teaches at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, and her commentary articles appear frequently in the major American and international press, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, and International Herald Tribune. She lives near Tel Aviv, Israel.

SYNOPSIS

Helen Schary Motro's MANEUVERING BETWEEN THE HEADLINES is the intensely personal account of an American and her family living through the Intifada, Israel's cataclysmic Palestinian uprising.
Swept up by the euphoric years of optimism that peace was finally at hand, she lived her life touched by the omnipresent Palestinian issue, but largely insulated from Palestinians themselves.
But her insulation was shattered by her personal connection to the very first child killed in the Intifada in September 2000. 12 year old Mohammed al-Durrah was shot before the world's eyes against a wall in Gaza cradled in the arms of his wounded father. Stunned by the photo reproduced on the front page of every newspaper in the world, Motro realized with shock that the father, Jamal al-Durrah, was a man she had known for years. Jamal al-Durrah had worked building and then repainting her home. Motro writes of their uneasy initial encounters which evolved over time into a relationship of respect. Days after his son's death al-Durrah spoke to Motro from his Jordanian hospital bed of his continuing wish for the future of the region's remaining children.
Her Jerusalem Post column about al-Durrah and his son won the 2001 Common Ground Award for Journalism in the Middle East. The prize ceremony at the European Parliament in Brussels brought her into personal contact with prominent Palestinian leader Sari Nusseibeh.
Motro, an American writer and lawyer who has lived in Israel with her family for nearly 20 years, speaks in the cultural language of her background, and her perspective will resonate with American readers. As she stands at the Sea of Galilee she looks to recapture the lakes of Maine. As she hesitates to get into a taxi driven by an Arab cab driver in Jerusalem, she is forced to face her own hypocrisy of being a 'white liberal'.
Motro and her family live through years of daily attacks on roads, in trains, restaurants, on street corners and in malls. She struggles with how much freedom to allow her teenage daughter in a society which has turned into a routine of catastrophe. By coincidence her husband narrowly escapes being caught in a lethal attack, and she feels compelled into an uneasy acceptance of the revolver he keeps as a hated necessity. Motro examines the dramatic narrowing of lifestyles which may or may not protect against the unpredictability of violence as well as the irony of who escapes and who succumbs, and what happens to the quickly forgotten wounded as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
As the Israeli peace camp all but falls apart, Motro attends peace rallies and keeps up her sympathies for the movement. She chronicles her ties with Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories as well as courageous attempts by private individuals and organizations not to allow co-existence between the two nationalities to become completely eradicated. Israeli physicians cross military roadblocks to deliver care to Palestinian villagers. Arab and Jewish archeologists work side by side during the darkest days of the Intifada to uncover ancient artifacts outside Motro's own driveway.
Existence in today's Israel is lived in the perpetual shadow of "the situation" - the Israeli catchword for events which envelop every aspect of their lives. Motro brings the unfiltered reality of the situation to life. MANEUVERING BETWEEN THE HEADLINES gives the reader tangible acquaintance with individuals behind the stultifying bombardment of headlines about the Mideast.
Uncluttered by rhetoric or dogma, her background on Israel's recent history as she herself has lived it – such as meeting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and later attending the peace rally where he was assassinated - conveys a hands on understanding of its society. Provocative and iconoclastic, Motro's unique perspective is of a mother and wife, an American living within Israel who retains her American frame of reference. Her book speaks not only of the power of hatred, but the ability of both Jews and Arabs to continue to reach out across the abyss.



Selected Works

Commentary
Articles
Op-eds, essays, features, and reviews published in the major American and international press.
Nonfiction Book
Maneuvering between the Headlines: An American Lives through the Intifada
Heartbreak and hope in today's strife-torn Israel: a memoir of coexistence
Poetry, fiction, literary non-fiction
Literature
Poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction in literary journals and anthologies.

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