The genuine article

Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin, a married couple who covered Israel for seven years for AP, ‘The New York Times’ and Fox News, tell their own story.

This Burning Land 521 (photo credit: Courtesy )
This Burning Land 521
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Students of the Middle East, don’t miss this one.
Top-tier journalists stationed for a substantial period in our region can be expected to know the culture, history, politics in depth. Greg Myre and Jennifer Griffin, a married couple who covered Israel for seven years, have done an admirable job of insightful writing about Israel and their lives as journalists here.
They’ve displayed neither knee-jerk sympathy for the Palestinians, nor automatic approval for Israelis.
Myre and Griffin met at the 1989 African National Congress rally in Soweto.
He’d graduated from Yale; she went to Harvard. A decade later, after covering conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the former Soviet Union, they arrived in Jerusalem, expecting to cover the peace process. Instead, Myre covered the intifada and subsequent conflicts for the Associated Press and The New York Times. Griffin was the correspondent for the Fox News Channel.
In This Burning Land, Myre and Griffin guide the reader through what might otherwise be a muddle of events, providing a useful chronology illustrated with gripping stories from their treasure trove of reporting experience. They never developed the cynicism that they describe as an affliction of many of their foreign press colleagues, as they faced the challenge of juggling their roles as parents and highprofile – and risk-taking – reporters. You’re going to like them. How could anyone resist a reporter who grabs her “two most essential items: a flak jacket and a breast pump,” when heading off to cover a story? They could even see the dark humor in having the rare night out away from children while sequestered in Gaza with the border closed.
Myre seems to have done most of the writing, with Griffin’s words interjected in italic passages. A few examples: “(September 2000) “I was several months pregnant with our first child and was feeling woozy. Journalists were not allowed to follow [former prime minister Ariel] Sharon up to the shrine and while I waited, I felt increasingly unsteady in the heat and noise that surrounded Sharon’s tense walkabout. In between filming stand-ups with my crew, I had to sit down repeatedly to catch my breath.
“On top of the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary, Sharon strolled around the expansive grounds. He did not enter either of the two Muslim religious shrines and was largely lost in a sea of security guards. On the fringes, angry Palestinians and the Israeli police exchanged shoves. Soon the Palestinians began hurling stones from the top of the platform down towards Jewish worshippers below. Sharon didn’t linger. He made his point and exited on the same wooden walkway he entered. I, meanwhile, found myself spending most of my time doubled over – partly from morning sickness, partly as cover from the hail of Palestinian stones.
“(April 2001) “Just two days before the arrival of our first girl, Annalise, the violence was raging, and I went to the West Bank city of Ramallah to interview the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber. I sensed the baby was on its way, but I wanted to finish this one last story. On my way home, I felt the weight of every step as I waited in line with Palestinians to cross an Israeli military checkpoint and return to Jerusalem... A day later, the conflict seemed to melt away as we stepped into the hospital (Hadassah Mount Scopus) that overlooked Jerusalem’s Old City. It is in a Jewish neighborhood surrounded by Palestinian ones, and a sign at the hospital entrance told patients and visitors to hand over weapons. There was an armed guard manning a metal detector to make sure they did. The guards also checked for any signs of sandwiches and unleavened bread. Because it was Passover the hospital was kosher.
“Everyone seemed to check their hostilities at the door as well. Walking the halls we heard almost as much Arabic as we did Hebrew. In the nursery, Muhammed and Moshe were both popular names for newborns.
Annalise was a pale, bald infant and was impossible to miss in a crowded nursery that featured a sea of olive-skinned babies, most sporting thick manes of black hair, and some already in urgent need of a haircut. The Jewish and Arab children were indistinguishable.
We had no idea how parents could locate their own without checking the wrist bracelets. If you could replicate the atmosphere in Israeli hospitals, Arabs and Jews would have made peace years ago.”
I’VE PURPOSELY chosen non-controversial, personal passages, but the ever-vigilant Israeli reader will have noted the term “Noble Sanctuary” paired with “Temple Mount” and wondered about Griffin’s eagerness to interview the family of a “suicide bomber.” In one of the most important chapters in This Burning Land, Myre describes the difficulty of mastering what he calls “the language of conflict”: “Both Israelis and Palestinians scrutinize language obsessively, and accepting or rejecting their lexicons is a litmus test that quickly classifies you as friend or foe. For a journalist who is trying not to take sides, it is enormously tricky, Every story is a walk through a linguistic minefield and a carefully crafted article can be undone by an editor in New York who casually and unwittingly inserts a phrase or even a single word that one side considers blatant bias... We would wrestle with these questions to the point of absurdity.
Take this common scenario: A Palestinian with an AK-47 rifle hides alongside a West Bank road. When an Israeli army jeep drives past, he opens fire. Is he a terrorist? Most American journalists covering the conflict would refrain from using the term, because the Palestinian was shooting at a military target.
“What if the same gunman waited for the army jeep to pass and shot at the next car, carrying an Israeli family? Did it matter that the attack took place in the occupied West Bank, as opposed to inside the borders of Israel proper? Many Palestinians would make this distinction; most Israelis would not. Perhaps it would be appropriate to describe the Palestinian gunman as a ‘militant’ when he was firing on an Israeli army jeep and a ‘terrorist’ when he fired on the civilian car, but such compromises satisfied no one.”
Myre and Griffin don’t whitewash journalistic errors, like the New York Times photo of a soldier and a miserablelooking “Palestinian” at the Temple Mount conflict. The Palestinian turned out to be a Jewish student from Chicago.
A chapter is devoted to the misreported battle in Jenin. Myre explains the AP’s infamous censorship of the tapes showing Palestinians celebrating the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, as an effort to protect their Palestinian cameraman.
In This Burning Land you’ll find the tragic story of Shaare Zedek emergency physician David Applebaum and his daughter Nava, murdered in Café Hillel in Jerusalem, as well as that of Dr.
Izzeldin Abuelaish, a physician from Gaza who works at Beersheba’s Soroka Hospital and whose three daughters perished in the shelling of his home during Operation Cast Lead. After outlining the depressing roadblocks to peace, Myre and Griffin conclude that they had only one counter-argument: “Even on the darkest days, we encountered ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who defiantly lived their daily lives as if the feud was about to end at any moment.”
Griffin ends the story with the beginning of her battle with a virulent form of breast cancer. She’s 40. They returned to Jerusalem last fall to take part in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Wrote Griffin in the afterword, “As I began the treatment, we soon realized that our experience covering other people’s wars gave us all of the tools we needed to fight this one. We began to look forward to the Friday afternoon chemo sessions as a few hours when we could work on this book together writing and revising on laptops as the wonder drugs were pumped into my bloodstream.”