The British Empire Library

Among Arabs and Jews

by P.J. Vatikiotis

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by E.H.
Those with a compulsive interest in the Middle East scene could do worse than acquire this book by Professor P. J. Vatikiotis which is refreshingly different. The author is a well established Middle East scholar with at least eight important books behind him and he is also well known as an editor, writer and lecturer of the region. He can be distinguished from so many other writers of the Middle East by his strong sense of objectivity which enhances what he has to say and separates him from those who write with passion of their espoused cause in the name of truth. Through the years Professor Vatikiotis has continually and consistently resisted all pressures to politicise his views in the long quarrel between Israel and her Arab neighbours and this alone gives him an edge over most others.

His latest book is entitled Among Arabs and Jews and is aptly named, if for no other reason than he was born in Jerusalem in 1928 and spent most of his schooldays in Haifa, then a happy cosmopolitan city in the days of the British Mandate in Palestine. His father, Mr. J. Y. Vatikiotis, was an official with the Palestine Railways and Haifa was the Headquarters of that excellent but basic rail system. So Haifa became his home. His family are of Greek stock and his ancestors came from the island of Ydra. But the book is autobiographical and the first half deals with his early days in Haifa, living in a neighbourhood of Jews, Christian and Moslem Arabs, Bahai and Greeks. Anyone who has lived in Haifa in the days of the British, will recall with pleasure the memories he teases from the mere mention of a family or of a particular street or building. The result in this case is pure charm. If one knows Haifa, that is. For those majority of readers who perhaps have never visited the place, it may surprise them to discover the highly developed society that is vaguely called Arab but is all the time almost pure Mediterranean. Was Haifa, and Haifa culture in the 1930s and 1940s so very different from other Mediterranean coast cities in Italy, Greece or Egypt?

The author is a consummate master of the English language which is a joy in itself. One gathers that his Arabic is equally faultless. He presumably speaks Greek as his mother tongue but confesses that his Hebrew is not up to scratch. Perhaps he is being modest on the point. But his writing style is light and objective on issues affecting the Arab-Israeli conflict. He presses his points home without any sign of belligerence and this actually makes his book that much more important.

The second part of the book deals with his time at The American University in Cairo, followed by an important period in the United States of America, lecturing and then finally to become Emeritus Professor of Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. All the time bringing a new light to bear on the Arab-Israeli issue and all the time refusing to become embroiled in the polemics of others who speak and write on the same subject. He met problems of course, particularly those of the human mind encumbered by political loyalties which could sometimes restrict all powers of reason. Such as the young Israeli official who examined his passport in the course of a security check and could not understand why someone born in Jerusalem did not have an Israeli passport and was not a Jew. Professor Vatikiotis already has influence in the intellectual world and in my view this will grow but above all this it must be said this book makes a very good read and is recommended.

British Empire Book
P.J. Vatikiotis
Weidenfeld & Nicolson


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