Grab your popcorn and strap yourselves in, because Fictional Max Brooks' Wild World Tour is still in Israel, and this time we're covering the Israel-Palestine conflict. It...sure is a chapter!
Our interview subject is Saladin Kader, a hunky professor at Khalil Gibran university in the city of Bethlehem, which is "one of the Middle East's most affluent cities", so Israel (or what was once Israel, more on that in a sec) is one of those areas that came out of the zombie apocalypse better than it went in. I find this highly dubious, for reasons I'll get to in a second.
In the timeline of the zombie war, we're now at the point where the existence of the zombie plague has been publicly revealed, but only a select few countries are taking it seriously. One of them is Israel, which takes the rather drastic step of voluntarily quarantining itself from the outside world. Saladin, as a Kuwaiti teenager, witnesses this announcement on TV and immediately sees it as a chance to bring death to Israel, because he's a cartoon character written by an American author with very little exposure to cultures outside of his own. It's not the idea of a Kuwaiti teenager whose parents fled Palestine during the war of 1967 having virulently anti-Israel sentiments that I object to, it's the cheesy language that Saladin uses to express those ideas. He sounds like a stock terrorist character in a bad TV show.
And yes, this is meant to be Saladin as an adult looking back on attitudes that he no longer holds and considers embarassing and naive in retrospect, but there is no other window into the anti-Israel viewpoint, so it seems that this is how Max Brooks (fictional or otherwise) believes that the bad guys in The Middle East: Season 2 talk and think.
But moving away from Saladin for a second: how about that quarantine, eh? Seems like kind of a big decision for a country to make so early. The reason for this is that author-Brooks arbitrarily declares certain countries to be bastions of cold logic and rationality while everyone else panics like headless chickens; the two most prominent examples of this are Israel and, as far as I can tell for no reason at all, South Africa, about which more in a future post.
But Israel in the Brooksiverse isn't just calm and logical, it's also possessed of a highly humanitarian spirit!
Ju--just like in real life?
I didn’t even hear the second part of that fat bastard’s speech, the part about offering asylum, no questions asked, to any foreign-born Jew, any foreigner of Israeli-born parents, any Palestinian living in the formerly occupied territories, and any Palestinian whose family had once lived within the borders of Israel.
I'm aware that I'm sailing into dangerous territory here, and that I don't know as much about Israel as I probably should, and it's important to recognize that this was written in 2001-2004 when the political climate in the country was probably different, but all that said: this level of generosity doesn't seem very plausible.
(The "fat bastard" is, I assume, meant to be then-current Israeli prime minster Ariel Sharon, viewed through the book's continual reluctance to directly name real public figures).
But anyway, Saladin hears this news and is all "mwa ha ha, death to the infidel Jews" (I'm only exaggerating slightly), ignoring the calmer people around him who decide to take up the offer and move into the quarantine zone.
I had never been to Israel, or what was about to be absorbed into the new state of Unified Palestine.
I normally criticise this book for excessive world building, but this is one case where we could have done with some more clarification. It appears that there is still an Israeli state in the present timeline of the book--Tel Aviv from the last chapter was part of it--but we don't know what its extent is, or what "Unified Palestine" is made up of.
Whatever the case, it appears that we finally have a stable two-state solution on our hands. And all it took was the looming threat of humanity's extinction! I'm sure with the climate change crisis bearing down on us, those guys will get something hammered out in real life in no time!
Anyway, Saladin had this whole geopolitical Q-anon esque fantasy where Israel was forcibly driven out of the occupied zones instead of leaving, and the generous quarantine offer was a ruse to get Palestinians as human shields. His dad, who worked in a hospital and saw the aftermath of some zombie cases, wasn't convinced and decided that the family would immediately flee to the quarantine area.
I’d show the images from Al Jazeera, the images coming out of the new West Bank state of Palestine; the celebrations, the demonstrations.
Speaking of that generous offer, aren't all of these people being left to die? The stated reason for the territory withdrawal is to make the quarantine border as easily-defensible as possible, but leaving tons of people outside is a) a major dick move and b) just going to add way more zombies to the growing undead horde.
Saladin recounts that his clash with his father came to a head when he announced his intention to go join a terrorist group and become a martyr, at which point his dad hulked out and slapped him. Thus, Saladin ended up getting dragged off to Israel, where shit promptly went down. And by "shit" I mean a civil war.
I mentioned that the Israeli goverment deliberately shrank their borders to make them more defensible; this included completely abandoning Jerusalem, which was apparently too difficult to defend. Once again, we see how the Israeli government is calm and utterly rational, willing to quickly give up ideological and religious ideals in order to tackle a problem in the most practical manner possible.
You know, the government of Israel, which is famous for quickly solving problems and always having a level-headed, proportional response to things.
So Saladin gets into Israel and he's all "oh no the Jews are so evil, they're gonna kill us", and then there's explosions and shooting and he's all "look they're killing us", but it turns out it's the opening shots of a civil war caused by the abandonment of Jerusalem and Saladin completes his character arc by learning that Israel is kind and benevolent and has only good intentions towards Pales...
Okay, let's drop the pretence and just talk plainly.
I have not researched Max Brooks, I haven't consumed any Brooks Content beyond his books (his Brooks-books?), I don't know what the guy's political affiliations or personal views are. But it seems pretty clear that he's pushing a common liberal stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is that Israel is 100% good and right and deserves unquestioned support, but that the Palestinian people should also be sympathised with. This is basically identical to the conservative stance, except that conservatives don't bother with the last part.
Needless to say, I have a dim view of this opinion, since sympathising with people doesn't solve any of the tangible problems they're facing as a result of the political forces shaping their country. Historically, counting on the benevolence and tolerance of the Israeli government has not worked out well for Palestinians.
The angle Brooks is pushing here is the geopolitical equivalent of Thoughts And Prayers: saying "oh those poor people" but actively refusing to countenance taking any action that might actually help them because your political ideology won't allow it. The second amendment fanatics say "oh those poor people" after every mass shooting, but will never allow any action that could prevent them from happening; this particular brand of liberal says "oh those poor people" every time Israel bombs the Gaza strip, but will never consider rolling back support for the Israeli government because their stance on the matter will always be "my ally right or wrong".
Brooks has apparently decided to solve this moral dilemma by having his fictional Israel act in ways that even the most devoted supporter of the country would have to admit is wildly out of character. Maybe he had some justification for this--maybe in the World War Z timeline a liberal, more compassionate government rose to power--but if so, there's nary a mention of it in the text.
Before we leave this chapter, and this thorny topic, it's worth talking about that civil war I mentioned earlier. This is the only time it comes up, and the only thing we hear about it is that the IDF defeated the rebels. Otherwise, Israel and Unified Palestine seemed to have come out of the whole situation in tip-top shape. In a chapter full of unbeliebable things, that's probably the most unrealistic.
First off, let's talk about the economic impact of the quarantine. The only country in the modern world to have done something similar is North Korea, and while that country's economic woes have plenty of internal causes, cutting itself off to an extent from the outside world can't have helped (and even North Korea isn't entirely isolated--there is limited trade with some other countries, and some foreign investment. We never get a clear explanation of what the Israeli quarantine involves, but the idea of a "quarantine" would seem to suggest total or near-total isolation). Israel is heavily dependant on tourism, which the quarantine eliminates entirely, and has a high-tech economy that relies on import for raw materials and export for sales, both of which would be massively impacted by closing itself off from the outside world.
And then on top of that, add in a huge and chaotic population resettlement program (surely most of the people in the abandoned areas--which includes Jerusalem, remember--are going to want to move into the quarantine zone), the intake of tens of thousands of refugees, and a civil war, and post-zombie Israel should be drastically worse off than before the plague.
The assertion that Israel and Unified Palestine not only survive the war but come out stronger than before stems from an odd reductionist stance present throughout the book, where zombies are treated as the only serious threat; the larger impact of the global pandemic is glossed over or ignored. As long as a country can take care of the zombie problem, everything else sorts itself out.
Later we're told that small island nations not only got through the outbreak unscathed due to their greater ability to close off their borders (a dubious notion to begin with, since we also learn that zombies are capable of crossing vast distances underwater and emerging onto dry land on the other side), but actually thrived and came out on top in the new global pecking order, such that Cuba is one of the economic and technological powerhouses of the world.
This makes no sense. Small countries are heavily reliant on trade with larger countries for their livelehood; if the complicated machinery of the global economy came crashing down, as it does for the duration of the zombie war, many of these island countries would turn into tombs surrounded by water as their local economies collapsed, food ran out and the populace starved. I would be very surprised if nations like Cuba--or for that matter my own home country of Ireland, which was at least stable enough to house the Vatican in the Brooksverse--came out the other side intact at all, let alone as beacons of progress and prosperity. Isreal, due to the quarantine, essentially turned itself into an artificial island and so all of the above should apply to it.
You might argue that I'm nit-picking, but the decision to cast this book as an artifact of reality--a document from our own future, portraying events that took place in the real world--invites exactly this sort of criticism. If Brooks just wanted to write about zombies and ignore the implications of his story, he should have gone for a more heightened, pulpier tone.