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Interview Questions and Answers

With Author/Speaker Amanda Roraback



Q. Israel-Palestine is one of the most controversial topics today and you tried to tackle it by giving both sides of the story.  Have there been any critics?

A. Oh yes.  Even before I began writing the book I received an email accusing me of using the terms B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (anno domini or “in the year of our lord”) to designate years rather than the more secular B.C.E. (“before the common era”) and C.E. (in the “common era”).  Keep in mind that I hadn’t yet put pen to paper!

Q. Which did you use?

A. I finally went with B.C. and A.D. with a disclaimer at the beginning of the book stating that “we” (I didn’t want to bear the entire burden alone) at Enisen Publishing chose to use B.C. and A.D. rather than B.C.E and C.E. because “we” felt these initials would be more familiar to our target audience. The book is geared towards people who know very little about the area.  I felt introducing unfamiliar terms would only confuse readers.

Q. What are some of the most contentious issues that you deal with in your book and in your talks?

A. Well, the word “Palestine” hits some raw nerves among Israeli supporters.  In one talk I gave at a local library, I was interrupted as I introduced my topic, “Hi, I’m Amanda Roraback and I’ll be speaking about the situation in Israel-Palestine.” “How can you speak about ‘Palestine’ when there is no such thing as ‘Palestine’” an angry listener complained.  The talk went downhill from there.  I was accused of basing my entire book on the “fantasy that Mohammed was transported to Jerusalem on a winged-beast.” The man hadn’t read the book but there is a story in the Koran about Mohammed taking a Night Journey up to the seven heavens.  “Jerusalem” is never mentioned by name in Islam’s holy book – another point of contention – but Muslims interpret the Koranic adjective “al-aqsa” or “farthest” mosque to mean the site of the temple in Jerusalem. Whether the Koran is based on truth or not, it’s important to understand Islamic beliefs to fully grasp the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Luckily, someone else in the audience pointed out that some stories in the bible: the burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, for example, could also be seen as phantasmagorical. 

Also high on the list of contentious points would be the “right of return.”  The Palestinians feel they should have a right to return to the homes they left behind in the course of the 1948 and 1967 wars.  Why these refugees left their homes in the first place introduces another controversial issue – did the Arabs leave the area that eventually became Israel because of and as a result of Zionist terrorism or was the flight a result of Arabic persuasion ….it’s a whole topic in itself.

Right now there are about 4 million Palestinian refugees and 6 million Israelis.  If the Palestinians all returned at once, Israelis fear it would spell the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state (it probably would).  With the higher birth rate among Palestinians they would soon outnumber Jews and, as an Israeli friend put it, “Israel would become just another Arab state with a Jewish minority.”  Palestinians counter that the offer would be seen as an important good will gesture and that most Palestinians wouldn’t move back even if they could.

 The outright rejection of the “Right of Return” by George W. Bush is all the more poignant in light of the weight of this issue to Arabs.

 Incidentally, most Palestinians living outside of the area prefer a single-state solution as an alternative to two states living side-by-side. In other words, they would like to see the creation of one democratic nation where all citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians etc. would have a single, equal vote. This kind of state would eventually give Arabs a majority vote on all major issues so it’s doubtful this solution will ever be put on the table.  Within the refugee camps, many Palestinians would be happy with two peaceful states.

The separation barrier is also a very hot topic. The Palestinians call it a “wall,” and sometimes the “apartheid wall” to denote what they view as a deliberate effort to divide two “races.”  The Israelis maintain that it is a “fence” since only some portions are constructed of concrete and it can be dismantled if/when suicide attacks cease.  Frankly, if bands of terrorists were crossing the border from Mexico into Los Angeles to blow up discotheques and markets, I, too, would be happy to see the construction of a wall/fence between Mexico and the US.  The problem in Israel, though, is that the barrier is being built beyond the border lines that were designated before 1967 to incorporate settlements built in predominantly Palestinian areas.  If this became a permanent border, it would cut into the territory that has been slated to fall under Palestinian authority in 2005 according to the Road Map for Peace.

At the heart of the controversy is always the issue of territorial rights.  The Jews had a kingdom in Israel centuries ago and maintained a small, albeit consistent, presence in the area.  The Arabs and Turks controlled the land while it was part of the Ottoman Empire which collapsed during World War One.  So who holds the “legitimate” claim to Israel? – the Zionists who bought land and developed the area into a modern country, or the Palestinians who lived there before the mass Jewish immigration beginning in the 19th century.  The Israelis point to contemporary legal claims through the Balfour Declaration and the acknowledgment of the state of Israel by the West after the 1948 War. Arabs say the land was promised to the Arabian Hashemite rulers by the British.  The Israelis say the Palestinians just want a piece of the pie that was the result of Israeli money and effort; the Palestinians call the Zionists “occupiers.”

Oh and there are so many other issues!  In 1947, for instance, the United Nations proposed a resolution that would divide the area into Arab and Israeli spheres of influence roughly along similar divisions that we have today.  The Arabs rejected the offer outright. Today, Israelis claim that by rejecting the resolution, the Palestinians forfeited their rights to the land.  One Palestinian speaker explained it this way:  “It was as if we had a guest in our home ‘generously offered’ to let us keep 45% of our property.  Who would accept an arrangement like that?”

Q. What are some of the most misunderstood or least understood details about the Middle East situation?

A. Many people don’t realize how close the Muslims and Jewish people actually are ethnically, historically and spiritually.  The term “Semite,” for instance, has been attributed to Jews through the term “anti-Semitism.” In fact, a “Semite” is a member of a group of Semitic-speaking people which included Babylonians, Carthaginians, Ethiopians as well as Arabs and Hebrews. The word comes from the name Shem, one of Noah’s (the builder of the ark) sons.

Moreover, both Jews and Muslims believe that God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan from the Nile River (in Egypt) to the Euphrates River in present-day Iraq.  The difference is that Muslims believe they are descended from Abraham’s first son by his servant Hagar (Ishmael) and the Jews believe that they are descended from his second son, Isaac, from his wife Sarah. 

Muslims also believe that Mohammed was the last in a string of prophets that included Abraham, Moses, Jesus and others to be God’s messenger.  The Koran, therefore, incorporates many stories of the Torah/Bible. Believe it or not, Muslims initially prayed toward Jerusalem like their Jewish counterparts but the practice was discontinued after a falling out between the Jews and Muslims in Medina in the 7th century.



Q. When did you start writing the “Nutshell Notes” series

A. My first official “Nutshell Note” was written about Cuba in 1998.  As I was planning a trip to the forbidden island I realized I knew very little about the country.  Why exactly were Americans prohibited from buying Cuban cigars?  Why has Castro been on America’s hit list for decades?  Why did Desi Arnaz abandon his homeland to become Ricky Ricardo?  All mysteries to me.  So for my own edification I put together a list of terms, history, politics, issues etc. and posted the information on a website I created called Nutshell (a take-off on Cliffs Notes).  I didn’t think much about the site until a little boy named Elian Gonzales put Cuba on the front page of every newspaper in America.  Suddenly visits to the site soared from fewer that 15 per day to more than 5,000.  It was then I knew I had hit on something big. 

But the real break came in 2001.  Of course no one could have predicted the horrific strike on the World Trade Center but there was a lot of activity surrounding the situation in Afghanistan before the fateful September 11 terrorist attack. 

At the time, the most visible champion of women living in the ultra-religious Taliban-run country was Mavis Leno, Jay Leno’s wife, who drew celebrities to the cause.  In 2000, Leno even hosted a star-studded evening at the Director’s Guild attended by celebrities from Dear Abby to Jason Priestly

 More intriguing, though, were the picketers outside the guild. Most were Afghans (men and women) and many were from an organization called RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan). Both Leno and the Afghans were concerned about the plight of women in Afghanistan but the picketers complained that Mavis and her famous friends were making the situation worse by diverting attention away from the real problems, namely poverty and violence, to focus on less important issues like education for girls and the abolition of the burqa.  “Until women and children have food on their plates and can walk outside their homes without the threat of being raped by bands of warlords,” the picketers argued, “there is no sense in setting up schools and changing cultural dress styles.”

Once again, I was inspired to gather as much information as I could on the country and posted the data on my Nutshell website.

At this point I was already considering compiling the information into little booklets in the style of Cliffs Notes and was in the process of starting a publishing company.  By 9/11/01, I had already bought ISBN numbers and had found an investor who was interested in the project.  A few hours after the second building fell in New York City and it became clear that America was going to invade Afghanistan in retribution, I knew it was time to take action.  This was the dawn of the Dummies and Idiots guide generation colliding with a sudden interest in international issues.  People were rushing to learn about these countries in the news -- as an LA Times reporter phrased it, they were looking for “history in a hurry.” For me it really was “a hurry.” (See 2003 LA Times story)

I quickly employed a neighbor to come up with a cover design, a friend from elementary school drew some maps, my mother edited the text and another friend spoke to local bookstores.  Within a couple of weeks, “Afghanistan in a Nutshell” was on the book shelves and soon after its debut it appeared on the LA Times Bestseller list.  Imagine! My first book landing on the bestseller list. It was surreal.

Q. What challenges did you face when writing Israel-Palestine in a Nutshell?

A. Israel-Palestine in a Nutshell was a very difficult book to put together since much of the conflict stems from different interpretations of events and data.  The Six-Day War in 1967, for example; did Israel start the war without provocation or were the Arabs responsible.  The war in 1948 is called a “War of Independence” by the Israelis and “Al-Nakbah” or “the Catastrophe” by the Arabs – same event, different perspectives. Different words are also used to describe the separation barrier – is it a moveable “fence” as the Israelis call it or a “wall” intended to grab Palestinian territory as the Arabs claim? Even geographically some Israelites continue to refer to the West Bank by the ancient names Judea and Samaria.

To put all this conflicting information into one text was a nearly impossible task.  To be completely fair, two books needed to be written -- one describing things from an Israeli perspective and another presenting facts from a Palestinian point of view.  And that’s what I ended up doing.

I began by reading all the tomes I could find giving the Israeli view and wrote “Israel in a Nutshell.” In this segment I included some biblical history, a short chapter on anti-Semitism, some background information about Zionism etc.  Then I switched gears entirely and began researching the situation with a Palestinian eye.  This half of the book included information about the Ottoman Empire and Islam and described the different militant groups among other things.

Many of the sections ended up overlapping.  Both the Israeli and Palestinian books have chapters on World War I, the Six-Day War, the Lebanon War and other events, but they are presented differently.  The map is labeled with the name “West Bank” as well as “Judea and Samaria.”

Even after completing the book I continued to attend lectures and discussions from proponents on both sides of the issues to stay balanced.  I attended a local mosque on Sundays, for instance, Jewish Kabbalah classes on Tuesdays, Christian lectures on weekends etc. There are militant and opinionated people in both the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestine camps but there are also many (I believe the majority) moderates. In Los Angeles, I’ve found that Muslims fear Jews as much as Jews fear Muslims despite the fact that all the holy books include verses that espouse peace and harmony.  Unfortunately there are also violent, hateful verses that can be pulled out of context to use in negative propaganda. The Israeli-Palestinian crisis is a constantly evolving dilemma and I’m going to try my best to keep up with events through rewrites and updates.  I think I’ve just committed myself to a lifetime of work on this 150-page book alone.