Ruth Mark Eglash is the author of "Parallel Lines." (Photo/Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ruth Mark Eglash is the author of "Parallel Lines." (Photo/Ariel Jerozolimski)

In ‘Parallel Lines,’ Israeli journalist uses fiction to untangle Mideast conflict

As Ruth Marks Eglash began writing “Parallel Lines,” her debut novel that tells the story of three teenage girls in Jerusalem, she found herself influenced by another novel about teenage girls: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

There are no gladiatorial death matches in Eglash’s book, but in painting a portrait of the social tinderbox that is modern Jerusalem, the author brushes up against a dystopian view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s a view Eglash sought to counter with her redemptive tale of her heroines — a secular Jewish Israeli, a sheltered Haredi girl and a Palestinian Muslim living in East Jerusalem — whose lives intertwine, and who bravely rise above sectarian conventions.

“I’ve always been fascinated by this idea of people who go against the grain,” the British-born Eglash said in an interview from her home in Jerusalem. “How hard is it for someone who grows up in a certain community hearing a certain narrative, surrounded by certain norms, to go against the grain?”

This is her first novel, but Eglash has been a writer and journalist all of her professional life, covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the Jerusalem Post, the Washington Post and other outlets. As a reporter she has drawn on sources across the ethnic and ideological spectrum, including among ultra-Orthodox Jews and Palestinian militants.

After a spate of lethal stabbings and car-ramming attacks committed by Palestinians against Jews beginning in 2015, the seed of a novel began germinating.

“I had all these stories I wanted to tell that were left over,” Eglash said. When the “stabbing intifada [began], I found myself in this weird situation where on one side, I was writing news stories explaining what was happening to readers. And then [my daughter] would come home from school, and I’d have to explain it to her in a way that wouldn’t frighten her. I didn’t want her to be afraid of every single Arab in the street.”

She conceived three interconnected stories, featuring one character loosely based on her secular daughter and two others from Haredi and Muslim backgrounds. Her characters — Tamar, Rivki and Nour — are sweet and easygoing at first, but each eventually chafes under the belief systems imposed on them by their respective societies.

Tamar resists the pressure to hate her Arab neighbors and falls in love with a Muslim schoolmate. Rivki finds herself questioning the restrictive role required of good Orthodox Jewish girls, and Nour rejects the militancy of her brother and cousin and embraces the ideas of peace and coexistence.

I wanted to explore how the conflict plays out and impacts young people and how teens fight adult wars.

The violence tearing apart Jerusalem eventually brings the three together to confront a terror attack in progress. It makes for a mutual act of extreme bravery and a call for coexistence.

Pie in the sky? Eglash doesn’t think so.

“Nour was based on a mix of young Palestinian women I met who were very impressive,” the author said. “Even though they grew up in this environment where everyone viewed them suspiciously, they were very much focused on improving their lives through education. As a journalist, I would talk to the loudest voices, almost always the extreme. But [for the novel] I wanted to talk to the quieter voices.”

Born to a British mother and an Israeli father, Eglash grew up visiting Israel often. She studied communications at the University of Leeds and completed an internship with the BBC in London before marrying an American Jew and making aliyah in the mid-1990s. After a stint with Young Judaea, she landed a job with the Jerusalem Post.

“I worked my way up from graphic designer to volunteering to [cover] every story that no one else wanted to do,” she said. “I became arts and culture editor and then covered social welfare stories, traveling all around Israel.”

After leaving the Jerusalem Post in 2012, she wrote for USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor before being hired by the Washington Post. She worked for the Post as its deputy bureau chief in Jerusalem from 2013 to 2020.

“Because my dad is Israeli, I always had Israeli citizenship,” she explained. “I speak fluent Hebrew, so I had access to the Israeli side. And as a journalist and a British national, I was also able to travel around the West Bank and other Palestinian areas to hear their side of the story. A lot of Jewish journalists don’t have that access.”

The access allowed her to cover a particularly gruesome terror attack in 2016, when a 17-year-old Palestinian youth infiltrated Kiryat Arba, the West Bank Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Hebron. He slipped into a private home and stabbed 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel to death while she slept.

“My own daughter was 14 at the time, sleeping upstairs, and I started shaking,” Eglash recalled. “I thought, ‘Who could do something like that?’ I took a deep breath and said, ‘Ruth, you are a journalist for the Washington Post, and you need to write this in as factual a way as possible.’ I took all the info I had from all different sides, the police and the army. I’m on the press list of Hamas, and I got a statement from Islamic Jihad. I would use the facts and recount what happened.”

The crime stayed with her, though. At first she considered writing a nonfiction book about it, but as time went on, the contours of a novel took shape.

“I wanted to explore how the conflict plays out and impacts young people and how teens fight adult wars,” she said. “This conflict is very much about teenagers. Israelis go into the army at 18. My son is finished, but my daughter is currently a soldier. They’re very much kids.”

To promote “Parallel Lines,” Eglash said she’s happy to join book clubs via Zoom. Meanwhile, she intends to keep pursuing journalism and taking advantage of her unique position to probe both sides of the conflict.

“I’m so lucky to have that right to ask questions,” she said.

“Parallel Lines” by Ruth Marks Eglash (303 pages, Black Rose Writing)

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.