I'd never heard of the writer, David Samuels, and the brief biography provided by the editors seemed sketchy: "Samuels has written for Harper's magazine, The New Yorker and The American Scholar. This is his first article for The Atlantic Monthly." Those aren't magazines to sneeze at, but the paucity of credentials that might suggest his feasibility to tackle this monumental subject did give me a moment's hesitation. Still, I charged on.
The piece covered many pages, and I kept hoping that the promise of the title would materialize. But the article really wasn't about the ruination of a land or a people's aspirations. This was little more than an extended portrait of Arafat, with his vanity and silliness highlighted occasionally, offered by close associates. None of them ever spoke of him except in reverential tones. Even when his corruption was hinted at, the end result was a portrait of a generous Robin Hood who gave rich people's money to the needy poor.
I should have known from the start that something was amiss. "The war for Jerusalem that began after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's failed peace offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000 has become the subject of legends and fables, each one of which is colored in the distinctive shades of the political spectrum from which it emerged: Yasir Arafat tried to control the violence. Arafat was behind the violence. Arafat was the target of the violence, which he deflected onto the Israelis. Depending on which day of the week it was, any combination … might be true."
Aside from not knowing what Samuels was talking about exactly, I took it as an offense that the blowing up of Israeli civilians was graced with the terminology "the war for Jerusalem."
Israelis, those same people who were targets of Palestinian guerrilla warfare, make an appearance or two, usually introduced by the author as villains. Otherwise, they are nowhere to be found. That's because this is a portrait of the "great man" – and he alone.
Take these passages from one of Arafat's bodyguards, Abu Helmi. " 'I don't want to speak about Abu Ammar as a president or a revolutionary leader; I want to speak about Abu Ammar the father,' Abu Helmi begins, referring to the Palestinian leader by another of his familiar nicknames. …
" 'For many years, at nights, we would suddenly wake up, with him coming over to see if we were covered … . During the meals, when there were no guests we always ate together. He was always insisting, giving us food, spreading, cutting, saying 'Eat, eat.' "
What a swell guy! A Jewish mother, even.