From Beirut to Jerusalem | Thomas L. Friedman

Summary of: From Beirut to Jerusalem
By: Thomas L. Friedman


Dive into the tumultuous world of the Middle East through the lens of Thomas L. Friedman’s book ‘From Beirut to Jerusalem.’ This compelling summary provides insights into the historical, political, and cultural complexities of the region. Key topics explored include the origins of the Sunni-Shiite division in Islam, the ethnic and religious tensions in Lebanon, the formation of Israel, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Moreover, the summary delves into the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and how it became synonymous with the Palestinian cause. The book offers a gripping portrayal of life in Beirut and helps readers better understand the region’s intricate power dynamics, as well as the relentless struggle for survival shaped by ‘Hama Rules’ and tribal politics.

Religious Division in Lebanon

After World War I, France gained control over Syria and Lebanon, leading to the formation of the Lebanese state. However, the establishment of the state was dominated by the Maronite Christians, leaving out the Sunni and Shiite communities who preferred to be part of Syria. The split between the Sunnis and Shiites dates back to the seventh century after the death of the prophet Muhammad. The majority of Muslims believed that succession should be determined through election and consensus, while Shiites believed that only Muhammed’s family members and descendants could fulfill this role. The Sunnis won the argument and imposed their own caliph, leading to the continued split between the two groups. The ethnic and religious mix in Lebanon turned explosive in the 1970s due to the rapid growth of Muslims, placing the Christians in the minority. This led to the formation of private armies, including the Phalangist militia, resulting in tension and conflict, exacerbated by the clash between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in Beirut.

Arab-Jew Conflict

The conflict between Arab and Jew dates back to the late 19th and early 20th century, with the resurgence of Jewish nationalism and the influx of European Jews to Palestine. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition western Palestine into two states, but the Palestinian Arabs and their neighboring Arab states rejected it, leading to the 1948 war where Palestine was defeated and Jordan annexed the West Bank while Egypt took over the Gaza District. The Palestinian resistance groups were organized under the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964, intended to help the Arab regimes control and support the Palestinians. In 1969, Yasir Arafat was elected Chairman of the PLO’s executive committee, signifying the elevation of the guerilla organizations into control.

Understanding Middle East: Hama Rules

The Middle East has a unique political landscape that is influenced by Hama Rules. This concept was established after Syrian Leader Hafez Assad faced opposition from fundamentalist Muslim organizations in the Sunni town of Hama. The town was a constant source of irritation for Assad, which led to a brutal crackdown by the government. Tanks were sent to the town to fire at anything that moved, resulting in the death of almost every member of the Muslim clergy in the area. Homes were destroyed with people still inside them. Assad had played by Hama Rules, which has a logic of its own and now shapes Middle East politics to this day. This event highlights the significance of understanding Hama Rules to understand the Middle East politics better.

Survival in the Desert

Survival in the desert is a battle between tribes over water and grazing land. In the absence of authority, making sure other tribes knew the cost of violating you is the only way to survival. Life depended on the bonds of kinship, and concessions could only be made from a position of power. Clinton Bailey, an Israeli expert on the Bedouin, described this life as a condition where every man was both hunter and prey. The Bedouin proverb “Me and my brother against our cousin. Me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger” shows the importance of kinship in this harsh environment.

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