August 23, 2001
The Wiles of Wilentz
Just when you thought things in Israel couldn't possibly get worse, a new novel comes along to prove that you don't know the half of it.
"Martyrs' Crossing" (Simon & Schuster, $24), by The New Yorker's former Jerusalem correspondent Amy Wilentz, tells the story of a Palestinian child needing medical attention who dies because Israeli officials refuse to let him and his mother through a West Bank checkpoint.
Though the book might appear even-handed and nonjudgmental in its depiction of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Wilentz ultimately betrays her sympathies by the degree to which she infuses the Palestinians with more dimensionality.
Wilentz warns against reading "Crossing" as a political tract. "It's inconceivable to me that anyone could feel that it is," she told The Journal from her home in New York.
Wilentz, who lived in Israel with her husband and children from 1995 to 1999, says she is familiar with this response. "Those of my critics who would argue that I favored one side or the other are usually Israelis, who think that anyone who can show sympathy for the Palestinians must be a Palestinian sympathizer," Wilentz says.
Wilentz came out of a secular Jewish background (her father was New Jersey Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz). She chose to write the story as fiction because journalistically, she says, it has been done to death by people "with greater depth of knowledge and credentials" than her own. By taking the fictional route, she felt she could bring the story down to size, forcing herself, and her readers, to deal with the conflict at the level of individual human beings.
Having done so, however, she is no more hopeful of the outcome. "The situation is not a reasonable situation for these two entities to be in. I don't know how they will get out of it."