The torture trap.

This thriller about the Israeli-Arab conflict comes with rare praise from one of the masters of suspense fiction and with a premise that suggests exploration of deep moral dilemmas. The endorsement comes from Stephen King, who says the book is "about the lies we tell ourselves until the truth is forced upon us," and is "what great fiction is all about."

The premise is this: An Israeli archetype of the left, a lawyer who defends Palestinians in Israeli courts and military tribunals--a thanldess job requiring exceptional fortitude and devotion--is suddenly asked to come inside the defense ministry to be the arbiter of the use of torture ("extraordinary means") against Palestinian detainees.

The lawyer, Dahlia Barr, is told by her former law professor, Zalman Arad, now the state's top anti-terror official, that the unthinkable is happening--the Palestinian citizens of Israel are about to launch an internal rebellion of terror. To help combat the new threat, the military and security services are lending out their top officers to the less capable national police force. Dahlia is asked to be among those chosen for this vital project. As Arad puts it, "Whom would you trust with such decisions? Someone else--or yourself?"

I am sorry to report that although the intriguing plot, taut action and tangled relations make this a page-turner, this is not a revelatory book about truth and lies. There is no exploration of Dahlia's moral and political dilemma. Nor is the delicate and complex issue of the loyalty of Palestinian Israelis to the state played out. Instead, the action moves swiftly to southern Lebanon, where a joint unit of Palestinians and Hezbollah has used hang gliders to penetrate the Israeli border, kill seven soldiers and take two others hostage. One is a Bedouin tracker. And wouldn't you know it? The other is Dahlia Barr's older son.

All of this is happening while an Israeli Arab named Mohammed al-Masri, who went to school with Dahlia and made an academic career for himself in Canada, has flown into Israel with tens of thousands of euros sewn clumsily into his suitcase. He travels on El Al, security officers notice his overstuffed suitcase--that seems to have been his plan--and he is detained upon arrival and held prisoner at police headquarters. Al-Masri, by appearances a sophisticated Westernized intellectual and a CNN commentator who changed his first name to Edward and married a blond Quebecoise, proves to be bitter, vicious--and, at...

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