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September 09, 1988 - Image 80

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-09-09

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Washington Correspondent


Novelist Howard Kaplan: The trick is the balance between fact and fantasy.



Can Fiction Help Solve
The Middle East Impasse?

In his new book, Bullets Of Palestine, novelist
> Howard Kaplan mixes fiction and fact to
influence a broad audience.

ometimes, fiction
speaks with more
authority than fact.
Images drawn in the pages of
a novel often linger long after
facts and figures have faded;
anyone who doubts the power
of fiction should recall the
enormous impact of Leon
Uris's Exodus in shaping
public opinion about Israel.
It's a lesson Howard Kap-
lan has learned with a
vengeance. In his role as a
teacher, he uses literature to
help Jewish and Arab stud-
ents bridge the deadly gap of
understanding separating
them. As a novelist, he uses
a potent mix of fact and fic-
tion to convey his passionate-
ly felt vision for Israel's
In Bullets of Palestine, his
recently published thriller,
Kaplan has built an elaborate
and suspenseful plot around
a single premise—that peace
and security for the Jewish
state can only come when
both Israelis and Palestinians
realize that they have com-
mon enemies. Among those
enemies are the Islamic fun-
damentalists whose move-
ment is spreading like a dread
disease throughout the Mid-
dle East, and the Palestinian
who make the PLO
o radicals
look like the Vienna Boys
ic= Choir.
Fi "From the beginning, I had
c., >, it in mind to say something
fi important about the future of
the Middle East," says
Kaplan, a balding, scholarly
looking man who was an ear-
ly activist in the Soviet Jewry
movement. "One reason I
brought the book out as a
paperback original is that I
felt the message was very
urgent, and it had to be heard
in a mass sort of way. And
this was before Gaza and the
West Bank erupted; recent
events have made it even
more important that people
begin to think in terms of
common interests?'
The seeds for Bullets of
Palestine came during a trip
through Lebanon in early
1983. "I was enormously
upset by the results of the
war," Kaplan says. "I came
away from there with a feel-
ing that I needed to write
something about reconcilia-
tion. I shopped around for a
while for ideas about what
Israelis and Palestinians have
in common, what they could
work together on. What I
came up with was Abu
Abu Nidal, the Palestine
National Liberation Move-
ment terrorist, is the real-life
figure at the center of
Kaplan's novel—a figure more
sinister and more devious

than any fictional character
this side of a Stephen King
"Abu Nidal represents the
`undivided land of Palestine'
point of view," Kaplan says.
"He's unequivocal in his pas-
sion to destroy all of Israel,
and to never settle for
anything less."
In pursuing this mad vi-
sion, Nidal also despises the
slightest flicker of com-
promise among his Palestin-
ian brethren. "In fact, in his
hatred for the idea of com-
promise with Israel, Abu
Nidal has killed more Arabs
than Jews," Kaplan says.
"Moderate Palestinians have
as much to fear from his
brand of extremism—more,
perhaps—than the Israelis!'

"I shopped around
for ideas about
what Israelis and
Palestinians had in
common, what
they could work
together on. What
I came up with
was Abu Nidal"

In the topsy-turvy logic of
Middle East strife, Arab and
Palestinian moderates are at-
tacked from both sides—
rejected by the Israelis, and
murdered by Palestinian
radicals like Abu Nidal. The
result, Kaplan argues, can on-
ly be more extremism and
more violence on both sides.
"So you have ironies like
the Socialist International in
Portugal a few years ago," he
says. "Shimon Peres was
there—and so was Dr. Issiam
Sartawi, a leading PLO
moderate who was openly ad-
vocating recognition of Israel.
Peres not only did not meet
with Sartawi, he lobbied the
conference strenuously and
successfully to prevent Sar-
tawi from speaking. The ulti-
mate irony is that on the
fourth day of the conference,
Sartawi was gunned down by
Abu Nidal because he was too
"So on one hand, Peres
won't let him speak, and on
the other, the extremist
Palestinians kill him because
he talks peace. And you just
want to bang your head
against the wall."
This incident is threaded
into the fabric of Bullets of
Palestine. In the story, an
Israeli intelligence officer and
a PLO operative warily join
forces to hunt down Nidal
before he can reach two major
targets—Yasser Arafat, whose
murder would cinch control of
the PLO for the Abu Nidal
extremists, and Shimon
Peres, whose assassination
would give a tremendous




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