Rarely does one find a book so descriptive and precise as Life at the Crossroads. The book tells the story of the city of Gaza and its surrounding towns from about 3300 BC till 1994, in short, informative chapters that deal with events as they occurred, without going into unnecessary details. Gaza was always occupied by foreigners. All the dynasties that occupied it, did so for its strategic location. Gaza lies between the African and Asian continents. Invaders could go to , travel north to and Jerusalem or go south.
For that specific reason, Butt illustrates the history of such occupations and their lasting effect, if any, on modern day Gaza . One can think of the book as a chronological recording of the events, and the archeological as well as the architectural findings of that city, but it also reads like a good novel, which keeps the reader gripped.
Gaza is a city that experienced unrest since the time of the earliest traces of human colonization in that area, always as a victim of its critical location. Every single dynasty since the early Canaans, occupied Gaza , the Egyptian Pharos, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, all the way up and to modern times. In its entire history, it managed, after the Philistines colonized the region of modern day coastal Palestine to stand up to one army - the Jewish army under David's leadership, although he managed to corner them into the city of Gaza after having occupied the rest of the region.
Gaza was an area that was always stubborn and indifferent to change, using its location to boost local economies dependent on the fact that the most famous and most widely used trade route in the region passed through it. When Christianity came along, the Jewish Kingdom fought it and clergy in Gaza had to resort to imperial power form the Romans present in Constantinople .
Yet, Gaza could not have ever been called a Christian city. When the Muslim crusaders came, Gaza, for the first time in history, welcomed the armies and their religion, which is still the dominant one in Gaza today.
The history of Gaza during the 20th century had never previously been well documented. Historians, writing about this century in general, tended to overlook this area probably due to its size, not lack of importance. When writing about it, even Arab historians, left out many subjects. This is possibly due to the bitterness of the losses of the 1948 and the 1967 wars.
The Israelis hardly mention the subject of Gaza because it was, and still is, a thorn in their side. This is embodied in the continuous efforts of Gazans to liberate their area from its occupiers. In any case, historians on either side cannot be wholly objective as a bystander.
Butt manages to give a reasonable account of the events, both historical and political, since the withdrawal of the British to the date of the publication. He realized the problems that the Gaza Strip will face. With mass mobilizations, media, transfer and shipping, Gaza has lost its historical role and importance of being an important link in a regionally famous trade route - even Gazans themselves use different routes now. The common trade of the population is not there anymore. An alternative has to make itself present, but with the Israeli troops still occupying the greatest share of arable land, Gazan are bound to find themselves dependent on others for jobs and all forms of financial aid.
The book's narrative and style is its best credit. Butt was a BBC correspondent stationed in the Middle East , for several years. His rhetoric as a journalist is found in the book - brief, precise, and unbiased.
The Publishers, in cooperation with The Star is giving away three copies to their readers. These will be chosen randomly from the letter or email entries sent to the newspaper, within the next two weeks.
Review by Eyad Ammari
February 1996 Issue, page 4