A Great Review by Les Francis:

Leslie C. Francis

4h  · For your 2022 reading list, let me urge you to start with, or quickly get to, “Four Wars/Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House”, by Terence Smith. Terry is an old friend; we first met when I was on Jimmy Carter’s White House staff and he was WH Bureau Chief for the New York Times. In that capacity, Terry interviewed me a few times, always or almost always on a background basis. He also wrote, based on a lead from the WH press office, of my soon to be announced designation as one of two White House Deputy Chiefs of Staff (in 1979).Years later, when he was dating and then married my good friend and colleague, Susy Elfving (going back to my days on Capitol Hill with then-Representative Norman Y. Mineta), we begin to see each other socially. And we have since spent many afternoons and evenings together eating and drinking and talking. In addition, drawing on exceptional skills honed on CBS and PBS, Terry also agreed to serve as the on-camera narrator in a wonderful little documentary which I helped produce: “Time and Chance: The Political Education of Harry McPherson.”That is all to say, we’ve had many conversations, and traded lots of stories. But, wow!!! The stories told his book are 99.9% new to me, and every single one of them is riveting. His accounts as a war correspondent (Six Day and Yom Kippur wars in the Middle East, Vietnam and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974), are particularly gripping. They add immensely to anyone’s understanding of 20th century history. It is also a fun read—-frankly, it is one of those books I hated to see come to an end. I recommend it highly.

He Saw It All

by Brooks DuBose

Strewn across Terry Smith’s kitchen table are three newspapers. Dozens more are stacked neatly nearby.
One is The Capital, the local paper Smith has read daily since 2014, when he moved to his home in Eastport overlooking Spa Creek. The others include The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Smith, 83, knows he’s a dwindling breed of news consumer who still gets the paper delivered to his door every day. Yet, what else can be expected from a retired reporter whose father is the legendary sports columnist Red Smith and who spent a five-decade career in print and broadcast journalism crisscrossing the globe, covering wars, high-stakes political affairs, natural disasters, and, most importantly, the people who were directly affected by those events?
He wants news the old-fashioned way.
While Smith’s byline no longer fills the pages of the Times, where he worked from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, he’s found another way to tell a story.
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In October, he published a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House,” that recounts his storied career and explores the upheaval the journalism industry has undergone from the middle of last century through today.
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As the title suggests, Smith’s career took him to war zones in Israel for the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars; stints in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia during the height of the Vietnam War; and, finally, on the island of Cyprus during a Turkish invasion. Despite serving in the Army reserve in his 20s, Smith never wanted to be a war reporter. His newspaper employers had other ideas.
Terry Smith, an Annapolis resident and longtime journalist for the New York Times and other news organizations, has written a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.” He is photographed in his home, here with one of his borzois, or Russian sighthounds, 4-year-old Anastasia on Monday, December 20, 2021.
Terry Smith, an Annapolis resident and longtime journalist for the New York Times and other news organizations, has written a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.” He is photographed in his home, here with one of his borzois, or Russian sighthounds, 4-year-old Anastasia on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Capital Gazette)
“There’s a wider world and people have different ways of working out their lives and solving their problems, and that fascinated me,” Smith said in an interview at his home. But, he said, “If you go to Israel as one of your assignments and Saigon to another one, the war finds you.”
Over the years, Smith’s work brought him in close contact with Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and numerous other world leaders.
In one of the book’s most riveting anecdotes, Smith tells of hearing the news that Robert F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, had been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. On a tip from the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Smith rushed to the home of the assassin’s father, who lived in the West Bank, and managed to interview the man who had no idea what his son had done.
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“There was no time to prepare,” Smith said. “I assumed he knew [about the accusations against his son]. It quickly became apparent that he didn’t.”
The book’s origins
For years, Smith, who retired in 2006, had mulled writing a memoir. He had lived in and around Washington, D.C., for much of his later career but finally moved to a home on the West River with his second wife, Susy, before landing in Annapolis. Two friends, Patrick and Catherine Stewart Roache, both authors who hold doctorates, encouraged him to put pen to paper after hearing his stories over glasses of wine in the cockpit of his sailboat Winsome on the Chesapeake Bay.
There were so many stories worth telling, like the morning in June 1967 when he woke with a hangover to a call from his Times editor telling him Israel and Egypt were going to war, and the interview he conducted the following year with Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who accurately predicted that the U.S. “would be forced to take your troops and leave Vietnam.” Seven years later, America would do just that.
Aided by decades of notes and clips from his career, and a needle-sharp memory that allows him to recall names, places and dates like they occurred yesterday, Smith set out to write about his career that began as a local news reporter for the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut and included stops at the Fort Dix Post, New York Herald Tribune and the Times before he jumped into broadcasting with CBS News and PBS NewsHour in the mid-1980s.
Terry Smith, an Annapolis resident and longtime journalist for the New York Times and other news organizations, has written a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.” e is photographed outside his home, with a view of Spa Creek and St. Mary’s Church on Monday, December 20, 2021.
Terry Smith, an Annapolis resident and longtime journalist for the New York Times and other news organizations, has written a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.” e is photographed outside his home, with a view of Spa Creek and St. Mary’s Church on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Capital Gazette)
When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, all of the speaking engagements he had planned for the rest of the year evaporated.
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Writing the book became “a COVID creation,” Smith said. “I had no excuse.”
Wanderlust gene
Smith’s itch to explore the world began at an early age.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in New York, Smith was taken by his parents on a six-week trip as a teenager to Europe to attend the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. It was in those weeks trekking around Finland with his father that a passion awoke inside him that he now calls his wanderlust gene.
“I really got interested in travel, and I very much wanted to go overseas as a journalist,” Smith said. “That idea, the romance if you will, of being a foreign correspondent for a major newspaper.”
Early in his career, Smith was one of five family members to work for New York newspapers in the 1960s, including his father; his uncle Art wrote a fishing and hunting column for the New York Herald Tribune and his cousin Pat covered sports at the New York World-Telegram and The Sun. Another cousin, Georgia, later became a features writer for the Times.
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His father, who earned a Pulitzer Prize for his sports commentary, never urged his son to follow in his footsteps, Smith said, but he was delighted all the same when Smith got a job with the Stamford Advocate in 1958.
“I went home and told my father I was a newspaperman. ‘Oh lord,’ he said in mock horror. ‘Another wasted life!’” Smith wrote in the memoir, which can be purchased at bookstores and online.
Sprinkled between tales of mortars landing outside his apartment in Saigon and temporary capture during an armed conflict in Cyprus, Smith shares major life events, including his lifelong friendship with his father; his marriage to his first wife, Ann; the birth of his two children, Christopher and Elizabeth; and first meeting his second wife, Susy, in a Washington bar.
Susy Smith served in the Carter administration and would go on to work for several other elected officials before becoming chief of staff to Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley in 2018. The two married in 1997.
Hope for local news
Smith’s memoir could be read as a personal history of the journalism industry.
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From the highly lucrative 1960s when budgets were bursting, thanks to exploding ad revenue that allowed newspapers to employ hundreds of journalists and send them all over the globe, to the contraction of the industry that began in the 1970s and has continued today.
Terry Smith, an Annapolis resident and longtime journalist for the New York Times and other news organizations, has written a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.” He is photographed in his home, here with one of his borzois, or Russian sighthounds, 9-year-old Ulla on Monday, December 20, 2021
Terry Smith, an Annapolis resident and longtime journalist for the New York Times and other news organizations, has written a memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.” He is photographed in his home, here with one of his borzois, or Russian sighthounds, 9-year-old Ulla on Monday, December 20, 2021 (Jeffrey F. Bill/Capital Gazette)
In the mid-1980s, Smith made the unusual but not unprecedented decision to jump from print to broadcast journalism, where he worked for 13 years with CBS News and “PBS NewsHour.” He went on to win two Emmy Awards after initially feeling like a fish out of water in front of the camera.

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Though he has been out of the news business for about 15 years, Smith is still a voracious news consumer and occasional writer. He remains positive about the future of journalism despite the upheaval and contraction it has seen during and after his career.
Between 2014 and 2018, Smith wrote a monthly opinion column for The Capital and has penned freelance pieces for the Smithsonian and other publications. He now serves on several boards and nonprofits, including the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
During his career, Smith was often faced with the existential question of whether journalism mattered, he said, pointing to examples of publishing bloody accounts of war only to have nothing change and the conflict carry on.
Still, he closes his memoir with a sense of hope for the industry he gave his life to, noting that “everything is changing — and will keep changing — but not everything is lost.”

Parole for Sirhan Sirhan Jr.?

Should the convicted assassin of Robert F. Kennedy be paroled after 53 years in prison?
Should the man who shot and killed Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, walk free? That is the question the full California Parole Board is actively considering after a two-member panel declared him eligible for release on August 27. The final decision rests with California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has said he has not yet made a decision, but has been quoted noting that RFK was a big inspiration to him, adding: “I think that gives you a sense of where I might be leaning right now.”
Sirhan, who remains in jail, has been denied parole 15 times before. Even the nine surviving Kennedy children are split on the question: two believe it is time for him to be released, six adamantly do not, along with RFK’s widow, Ethel. The eldest, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has remained silent, finding it too emotionally difficult to discuss in public.
The whole debate summons a vivid memory for me, a haunting recollection of how I became the person to tell Sirhan Sirhan Sr. that his namesake son had been seized on the spot as the assassin. It is recounted in my newly-published memoir “Four Wars, Five Presidents: A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House.”
On June 5th, 1968, I was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times based in Jerusalem, Israel. I had spent a lot of time with Robert Kennedy, covering his successful 1964 campaign for the United States Senate from New York, the only campaign he ever finished. I had been skeptical of him at first, but had come to admire him when it became clear that his commitment to civil rights and racial equality was the real deal. Needless to say, I was stunned by the news out of Los Angeles.
The next day I was attending a reception at the home of the American Ambassador to Israel when he drew me into his study, closed the door and told me that he had just learned that Sirhan Sirhan, Sr., the assassin’s father, lived in a small West Bank village near Jerusalem, barely an hour away.
Heading straight there, I arrived at the darkened Sirhan house about 10 p.m. A diminutive man in pajamas opened the door, clearly puzzled why a stranger had come at such a late hour. I explained who I was and, typical of Palestinian hospitality, Sirhan insisted that I sit at his kitchen table while he made coffee for both of us.
I asked Sirhan if he had heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination. He said yes, it was terrible, that Kennedy could have been a great president. I asked if he had heard that the assassin was caught on the spot. Showing no emotion, he said yes, he had heard that on the radio. Had he heard the name of the captured assassin, I asked? No, he said, he had gone to bed and had no idea who it was.
Sitting at the kitchen table, I slid my reporter’s notebook across to Sirhan. “I understand you have five sons, is that right?” He said yes, he was proud of them. I asked him to write their names on my notebook. When he wrote the 4th name, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan Jr., I put my finger on that name and looked him in the eye. “That’s the name of the assassin they seized on the spot,” I said.
Stunned, Sirhan Sirhan Sr. stared at me. He could see I was serious. He gave me a hard, disbelieving look and shook his head. Then he erupted, first shouting that the assassin couldn’t be his son, Sirhan. “He was the best of the boys, the smartest, with the best grades,” he insisted, “I had the highest hopes for him.”
Then, his face darkened and his voice became angry. “If he did it,” he shouted, “he should hang.,” repeating that Kennedy could have been a great president.
Back and forth the father went, frantically switching from denial to accusation, back and forth for a half-hour, shaking his head in disbelief and then shouting that if his son was guilty, he should hang. He kept repeating that Sirhan Jr. was the brightest of his boys. “It couldn’t be, not Sirhan, not him,” he said repeatedly. “But if he did this dirty thing, he should pay for it.”
Finally, about midnight, I closed my notebook and returned to Jerusalem to write what little I had learned about the accused assassin’s family and background. I never saw Sirhan Sirhan Sr. again.

Postscript: the next day I interviewed the Palestinian headmaster of the school Sirhan had attended in the Old City. He confirmed that Sirhan Jr. had been a promising student with excellent grades. But, he said, the family was deeply troubled. The father had lost his job, blamed it on the Israelis, and took it out on his family, beating his wife and kids. The couple spit up; the wife took an offer from an evangelical Christian group and moved with the boys to the United States. That, said the headmaster, was why Sirhan Jr. was so bitter about Kennedy, whom he saw as a supporter of the Israelis, and so angry as Kennedy closed in on the presidential nomination.
So, should Sirhan Sirhan Jr. be released now, after more than half a century in prison? I would say no, but I am not impartial on the subject. That decision is up to the full Parole Board and, ultimately, Governor Newsom.


   Just a quick comment today on the extraordinary coverage over the past week of the “lethal mayhem,” as Roger Cohen labelled it in today’s New York Times, surrounding the Kabul airport as the United States and allies struggle to bring some order out of chaos in Afghanistan. Much of the coverage has been riveting, produced under the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. 

   But what stands out to me day after day is the first-person reporting of western women correspondents in the face of the open hostility they encounter from the heavily-armed Taliban fighters around the airport. 

   Jane Ferguson’s lead pieces for The PBS Newshour each night have been outstanding examples of the kind of calm, coherent coverage that is needed to make sense out of a senseless, chaotic scene. Ferguson remains inside the perimeter of the airport, interviewing desperate Americans and allies as they push through the gauntlet. 

   In Monday’s New York Times, Roger Cohen interviewed Ferguson, noting that she is one of the few Western reporters still in Kabul. The scene around the airport, she said, is “apocalyptic. People are fainting and dying. Children are going missing.” The scene, she said, “is like a very strange dream.”

   Correspondent Clarissa Ward of CNN has also been remarkable, even confronting Taliban fighters who lecture her on camera about covering her face and hands in public. She continued reporting first-hand until she was able to escape aboard a flight to Doha, Qatar.   Both women have set a standard for coverage that is at once brave, empathetic and important


            The similarity of the page-one images is haunting: the fat, Chinook helicopter lifting diplomats and escapees above the vast United States compound in Kabul this morning, August 16, 2021; and the famous, April 28, 1975, photo of Vietnamese evacuees clambering up a spindly ladder to an Air America helicopter atop an apartment building a short distance from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. 

The two experiences are different, of course, but both images symbolize the climatic end to a costly, misguided American adventure abroad. Both raise the same troubling question: “Will we ever learn?”

            Lord knows we have been warned, first by Rudyard Kipling about Afghanistan, “the graveyard of empires,” and in 1968, by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, then the leader of Cambodia, talking about the folly of the U.S. effort to prop up the crumbling government of South Vietnam.

            In an interview I conducted with Sihanouk in Phnom Penh and published in The New York Times on November 17, 1968, the Prince forecast: “You will be forced to take your troops and leave Vietnam. You cannot block the majority will.  You cannot stop the reunification and yes, the communization of Vietnam. The majority of the people want to be with Ho Chi Minh and there is nothing you can do about it. You would be wise to withdraw and let the Vietnamese settle their own problems themselves.” It took seven more years, billions of U.S. dollars and countless American and Vietnamese lives before the American effort collapsed, but every word Sihanouk said that day in 1968 proved true. 

This account is included in my forthcoming memoir, “Four Wars, Five Presidents, A Reporter’s Journey from Jerusalem to Saigon to the White House,” to be published by Rowman and Littlefield on Oct. 15, 2021. The link to pre-order the book follows:


            Recommended summer reading: “A Good Life, Newspapering and Other Adventures,” by Benjamin C. Bradlee, the late executive editor who made The Washington Post what it is today. It’s an autobiographical journalistic memoir, first published by Simon and Shuster in 1995.

   “A Good Life” is a delight: entertaining, brightly written and deeply perceptive about the ethical and professional conflicts that confront journalists today. For some reason, the 500-page hardback has perched unread on my bookshelf for more than two decades until I picked it up the other day and was immediately drawn into Ben’s candid account of his early years, his time in Paris, his three marriages and many dalliances, his friendship with John F. Kennedy, his stint as Washington bureau chief of Newsweek and his selection by Kay Graham in 1965 as the eventual executive editor of The Post, a position he told her frankly he would “give my left one for.” (At Ben’s 1991 retirement party at The Post, which I attended, Mrs. Graham recalled that offer and joked: “What no one knows is, I accepted.”)

   “A Good Life” is quintessentially Bradlee: irreverent, earthy and a revealing account of American journalism in the 20thcentury from Watergate through the Janet Cooke affair to ethical and national security issues that he confronted in his later years at The Post. It was, as the title suggests, a very good life and remains a very good read. If it is sitting unread on your bookshelf, or available elsewhere, pick it up and see what I mean.


Today’s Recommended Reading includes two excellent examples of international reporting from the Grey Lady, and an essay from Time magazine by Rick Hutzell, the former editor of The Annapolis Capital Gazette about the aftermath of the June 28, 2018 shooting that took the lives of five employees and still ranks as the most deadly assault on American journalism.
“Riots Shattered Illusion of Coexistence in Israel. In Arab-Jewish Towns, Resentment festers Over Inequality” is the headline on Roger Cohen’s remarkable page-one account, datelined Acre, Israel, in today’s New York Times. It is a penetrating, perceptive look at the fallout from the inter-communal rioting that shattered Israel during the latest round of fighting in Gaza.
“After Clenching Power, Tunisia’s President Holds Forth on Freedoms. Lecturing Reporters on Preserving Rights and The Rule of Law,” is the headline on a riveting first-person account, datelined Tunis, by Vivian Yee, in the international section of today’s New York Times. She describes being summoned to an audience with Tunisia’s autocratic president Kais Saied in the presidential palace, being cautioned about crossing her legs in front of him, directed to replace her sandals with a pair of closed-toe heels and then lectured about the new freedoms he is bringing to Tunisia.
Here is the link to Rick Hutzell’s powerful essay in Time.


            Three years ago today, on June 28, 2018, a deranged gunman murdered five staffers at the office of The Annapolis Capital Gazette, the beleaguered Maryland daily that serves this state capital on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. The attack was then and remains today the costliest assault on the press in the history of the country.

            Today, several hundred people are commemorating the deaths of news editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, 59; editorial editor Gerald Fischman, 61; community news reporter Wendi Winters, 65; sportswriter and editor Bob McNamara, 56; and sales associate Rebecca Smith, 34; by dedicating a striking new memorial to the First Amendment on the waterfront. In an ironic twist, a trial to determine whether their confessed and defiant killer was mentally stable at the time of the shooting opens tomorrow in a local courtroom. The defendant pled guilty to all five murders in an earlier trial. His only explanation was that he was settling an old score with a pair of editors who no longer worked at the paper. His lawyers assert that he was crazy.

            There will be recollections of the deceased at the dedication, speeches about the importance of the first amendment, declarations by local politicians and others of the importance of local newspapers and praise for the Annapolis Capital, which was honored by the Pulitzer Prize committee for soldiering on three years ago in the wake of the shooting. 

            Meanwhile, another murder is taking place at the Annapolis Capital. The vulture capital firm Alden Capital, which has bought and systematically fleeced and destroyed scores of newspapers across the country in the name of short-term profit, is killing the Capital. Not with a gun, of course, but with budget cuts, buyouts, staff reductions and consolidation. The Capital newsroom was already shuttered last year even before Alden completed its $630 million takeover of Tribune Publishing, the parent company of a dozen dailies including The Baltimore Sun Media Group, of which the Capital is a component.

            Just yesterday, Danielle Ohl, a young and promising reporter on The Capital, signed off with an eloquent op-ed column headlined: “See You Later, Annapolis; I love you,” after apparently taking one of the buyouts urged by Alden Capital to trim the staff and cut costs. She will be missed by the readers, as will Rick Hutzell, the longtime and dedicated editor, who took a buyout a week earlier. Both wrote that the paper will be fine going forward without them, but readers wonder at what point the staff and budget cuts will become lethal.

            There is a slim ray of hope: a few public spirited citizens in Baltimore have floated plans to purchase the Baltimore Sun Media Group from Alden and restructure it as a non-profit. So, the Capital, which has been published regularly since the 18th century, may live on in a new incarnation. 

            Or not. 

            Stay tuned.



         On the dry, hot morning of June 7, 1967, as a newly-minted foreign correspondent for The New York Times in Jerusalem,  I was among the first American reporters to follow Israeli troops into East Jerusalem. I rode in a borrowed jeep into the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood and watched as Israeli troops rounded up all the Arab men of military age and took them prisoner. An hour later, I ditched the jeep and walked through the Lion’s Gate into the Old City and onto the broad, open plaza around the Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa mosque. The area is known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Arabs.

         Sheik Jarrah and Al Aksa were the two incendiary matches that lit the fuse that launched the most recent, 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza: Sheikh Jarrah because of an ongoing legal dispute between Palestinian residents and Israelis over the ownership of several of the houses; the area around the Al Aksa because Israeli police launched a violent crackdown on Palestinian protesters that brought Hamas rockets raining into Israel.

         A ceasefire between the two sides has largely held for several days now after heavy casualties and destruction on both sides. There is speculation that Israel’s politically embattled and indicted Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, might have brought on the fighting as a diversion from his own problems; and that Hamas may have responded as forcefully as it did to establish itself as the defender of Jerusalem over Fatah and the Palestinian Authority and the true leader of the Palestinian people. So far, neither accusation has been proved by documentary evidence, but the speculation abounds.

          In many ways, this latest, costly battle seems reminiscent of past encounters between Israel and Hamas. Innocent civilians get caught in the deadly crossfire on both sides. Foreign powers, including the United States and Egypt, apply pressure and a ceasefire is reached. Each side buries its dead and rebuilds. The tension subsides but the anger remains. Rinse and repeat. 

But  this latest round is significantly different in several ways.  Social media played an explosive role this time in arousing anger and action on both sides. Right-wing Israelis fought openly against Israeli-Palestinian demonstrators in the streets of Lod and Acre and Haifa and other mixed  cities, shattering an uneasy accommodation that has existed within Israel for decades. And world opinion was more vocal in criticism of Israel and support for Palestinians. None of these realities is likely to disappear any time soon. So, the stage is set for more social media incitement on both sides and more internal, communal strife within Israel. 

      To anyone who remembers  the hopes for peace that were felt on both sides in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, it is a discouraging, heartbreaking prospect. To understand what Palestinians go through on a daily basis on the West Bank these days, read the excellent piece in the Sunday, May 23, New York Times by David M. Halbfinger and Adam Rascon headlined: “The Misery of Life Under Occupation: Daily Indignities Mount for Palestinians, Steadily fueling a conflict.” That says it all.