My Promised Land
Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is an influential Israeli columnist. His book takes its readers through the history of Israel, beginning in 1897 through the current day. But this is not just your typical history book, in the slightest. Shavit "draws on interviews, historical documents, private diaries, and letters, as well as his own family's story, illuminating the pivotal moments of the Zionist century to tell a riveting narrative that is large than the sum of its parts: both personal and national, both deeply human and of profound historical dimension." Each chapter is a glimpse into Israel's history, but I never felt like there were significant gaps. And within each of the chapters, all entitled with a phrase and a year (like "Into the Valley, 1921," "Lydda, 1948" or "J'Accuse, 1999"), Shavit focuses on the stories that make up each chapter in Israel's life. "It is a Zionist book unblinkered by Zionism," writes the New York Times Book Review, "It is about the entirety of the Israeli experience." He does not shy from critiquing Israel, commenting on current political realities that were shaped by historical situations. What I found interesting is that My Promised Land was written in English. It was not meant for Israelis. Instead, it was meant for American Jews. As Jerusalem Post (critically) writes, "Shavit's book gives the American Jewish community the ability to feel comfortable refusing to be inconvenienced for Israel." I viewed My Promised Land differently. Yes, it is the tale of the morally ambiguous Israel, and does give the American Jewish community ability to distance itself from Israel. But I read it as a wonderfully written account of a country that American Jews don't necessarily fully grasp and a book that everyone should read if they have the chance to understand Israel today. To end with a quote from the "Peace, 1993" chapter, describing the Valley of Hulda (currently, a kibbutz; previously, an Arab village)
Hulda is here to stay. And Hulda has no solution. Hulda says peace shall not be. I descend the hill to the well, the vineyard. It's so beautiful and calm here. But the soil is hard. The land is cursed. For it is here, in the Valley of Hulda, that history's door creaked open on April 6, 1948. It is precisely here, at the end of the Herzl forest, that the Jews crossed the threshold between the commune's oil grove and Jamal Munheir's fields and entered the forbidden....Here, by the old well of Hulda, we moved from one phase of our history to another, from one sphere of morality to another. So all that has haunted us ever since is right here. All that will go on haunting us is right here. Generation after generation. War after war.
I highly recommend it. Rating: ★★★★★