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