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My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of…
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My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by Ari Shavit

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Anytime you read anything on Israel, it’s important to know the perspective of the author. The introduction is helpfully candid as the author gives a short bio and lets us know he writes for the leading liberal paper, but has sparred with the right & left as he’s grasped the complexity of the Israel situation. I felt he did a good job representing a wide variety of perspectives fairly, without veiling whom he agreed with. (I would comment that the focus is undeniably secular, there’s no mention of the Christian minorities, either Arab or Jewish, and his treatment of the Orthodox Jews doesn’t convince me he understands them at all.) The writing was fantastic and the story quite gripping. I thought it covered a lot of ground and made me understand, as it is well sub-titled, the triumph & tragedy of Israel. After reading it, I feel like I understand the existential crisis that made Jewish people, as a globally oppressed minority, to try to find a safe haven. I respect the amazing work and things they did to form and hold a country in the place they did. But I grieve for the awful things they did to get there. In order to survive, I was able to see how and why the oppressed became the oppressor, however reluctantly, after they realized there was no peaceful way to create their state. Ari Shavit tells all these things candidly and powerfully. I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about the history of the modern state of Israel. ( )
  deferredreward | Mar 23, 2014 |
An odd book, told mainly through biographies of various Israelis (and pre-Israelis), which argues among other things that Israel’s practice of having nuclear weapons but not acting as if its strategy depended on such weapons was highly successful for many years but has been destabilized by Iran and by the settlements, which have destroyed any prospect for peace. Another depressing book, which suggests that Israel’s right-wing Orthodox groups have both opted out of protecting the state (both militarily and economically) and successfully prevented any withdrawal from settlements in the Occupied Territories. Shav argues that peace supporters also erred by promising land for peace; even if Israel now surrenders territory, there will be no peace; but at least some abuses and injustices would stop worsening. ( )
  rivkat | Mar 10, 2014 |
Shavit begins what he hopes is an international dialogue with this book. Such a dialogue has been long in coming. Perhaps the time is ripe. He can see that the Israeli position in the Middle East is dangerous and endangered. He uses interviews to illustrate various events that have shaped the nation and its now shifting worldview.

Shavit shows us how both the right and the left in Israel today have flaws in their grasp of where Israel is in relation to the Palestinians, the Arab world, indeed, even America. He is blunt, bruising, argumentative but illuminating as he cuts away at justifications of former and would-be leaders. The underpinnings of their stance are revealed in this way.

We know where Shavit stands:
”…the choice is clear: either reject Zionism because of (the expulsion of Palestinians from) Lydda, or accept Zionism along with Lydda. One thing is clear to me: the brigade commander and the military governor were right to get angry at the bleeding-heart Israeli liberals of later years who condemn what they did in Lydda but enjoy the fruits of their deed. I condemn Bulldozer. I reject the sniper. But I will not damn the brigade commander and the military governor and the training group boys. On the contrary. If need be, I’ll stand by the damned. Because I know that if it wasn’t for them, the State of Israel would not have been born. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have been born. They did the dirty, filthy work that enables my people, myself, my daughter, and my sons to live.” (p. 131)
The following passage was one of the most revealing and enlightening to me for it gave me a perspective I had not considered: ”Israel of the 1950s was a state on steroids: more and more people, more and more cities, more and more villages, more and more of everything. But although development was rampant, social gaps were narrow. The government was committed to full employment. There was a genuine effort to provide every person with housing, work, education, and health care. The newborn state was one of the most egalitarian democracies in the world. The Israel of the 1950s was a just social democracy. But it was also a nation of practicality that combined modernity, nationalism, and development in an aggressive manner. There was no time, and there was no peace of mind, and therefore there was no human sensitivity. As the state became everything, the individual was marginalized. As it marched toward the future, Israel erased the past. There was no place for the previous landscape, no place for previous identities. Everything was done en masse. Everything was imposed from above. There was an artificial quality to everything. Zionism was not an organic process anymore but a futuristic coup. For its outstanding economic, social, and engineering achievements, the new Israel paid a dear moral price. There was no notion of human rights, civil rights, due process, or laissez-faire. There was no equality for the Palestinian minority and no compassion for the Palestinian refugees. There was little respect for the Jewish Diaspora and little empathy for the survivors of the Holocaust. Ben Gurion’s statism and monolithic rule compelled the nation forward.”(p. 151)
Shavit seems to mourn, to regret, that the folks who were instrumental in setting up and continuing the success of the Israeli state seemed not to know what they were doing in terms of outcomes. The folks he is talking about were big, big in every way: in society, in influence, in action, and that they should have taken more care to think how their actions would affect the present and the future of Israel (and I would add, the world). But they were only men. Only human. They did the best they could at what they were best at. Most of us would be proud to have that written on our gravestones. But we now have to ask ourselves, “is this the best we can do?” The legacy of these folks is unacceptable.

Shavit begins with the historical underpinnings of the state of Israel, but by the end he admits the “binding historical narrative has fallen apart.” One almost wishes it were possible to begin again, starting back when land was actually purchased rather than stolen. Shavit acknowledges it is difficult to ignore the truth of displaced Palestinians. “What I see and hear here is an entire population of ours…imprisoning am entire population of theirs. This is a phenomenon without parallel in the West. This is systematic brutality no democracy can endure.” Whatever else Israel has succeeded in accomplishing must be paired with this bald fact.

But many in Israel are willing to live with this. Even Shavit claims it gives his people the edge (“quick, vital, creative”) that living under the “looming shadow of a smoking volcano” brings. Some “harbor in their heart a great belief in a great war, which will be their only salvation.” Well. (pause) Do I need to add that this does not seem much of a solution?

It was difficult for me to finish reading this book. My emotions roiled as I read the bulk of Shavit’s narrative, and at some point I exclaimed, “thank god for Shavit,” for he is willing to struggle with hard truths and face them like a leader. But I felt I was finished before I got to Shavit’s concluding chapter.

This exhaustive (and exhausting) catalog of personal histories, slights and wrongs, achievements and successes, thoughts and second thoughts about who really deserves to be in Israel and Palestine culminated in me wanting to say “just do it.” Now that everyone has had their say and we understand all…just fix it.

The contrast between Israel’s self-congratulation on one hand (we have so much talent, wealth, ambition, vision) and despair on the other (we have no friends, and so many enemies, we must actually bomb sovereign states to feel safe) is stark. But the state of Israel may be facing what every nation appears to be facing these days: a more divided electorate that hews to less moderate viewpoints, growing ever more radical and less tolerant by the year. While it is possible for me to feel empathy for individuals, it is difficult for me to feel sorry for a nation.

I did read the end of Shavit’s book. He is not optimistic. We all have reason for despair, but real leadership refuses to acknowledge the same boundaries that constrain the rest of us. It seems clear that we all want someone else to do the hard work of compromise and “leading” for us, and we wait for someone else to appear…when we really should all be thinking now, in this age of global warning and divided nations: What have we wrought?
( )
  bowedbookshelf | Mar 8, 2014 |
I now have a better understanding of the occupation, settlements, present life in Israel and my family's past at the turn of the last century in Palestine. ( )
  mstruck | Mar 4, 2014 |
A fascinating - and well-written - read which gave me deeper insight into life in, and the history of Israel. Recommended! ( )
  Empty-Mirror-Mag | Mar 3, 2014 |
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Book description
A groundbreaking, ambitious, and authoritative examination of Israel by one of the most influential columnists writing about the Middle East today

My Promised Land tells the story of Israel as it has never been told before. Facing unprecedented internal and external pressures, Israel today is at a moment of existential crisis. Through revealing stories of significant events and of ordinary individuals—pioneers, immigrants, entrepreneurs, scientists, army generals, peaceniks, settlers, and Palestinians—Israeli journalist Ari Shavit illuminates many of the pivotal moments of the Zionist century that led Israel to where it is today. We meet the youth group leader who recognized the potential of Masada as a powerful symbol for Zionism; the young farmer who bought an orange grove from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s, and with the Jaffa orange helped to create a booming economy in Palestine; the engineer who was instrumental in developing Israel’s nuclear program; the religious Zionists who started the settler movement. Over an illustrious career that has spanned almost thirty years, Shavit has had rare access to people from across the Israeli political, economic, and social spectrum, and in this ambitious work he tells a riveting story that is both deeply human and of profound historical dimension.

As it examines the complexities and contradictions of the Israeli condition, My Promised Land asks difficult but important questions: Why did Israel come to be? How did it come to be? And can Israel survive? Culminating with an analysis of the issues and threats that Israel is currently facing, both internal and external, My Promised Land uses the defining events of the past to shed new light on the present. The result is a landmark portrait of a small, vibrant country living on the edge, whose identity and presence play a crucial role in today’s global political landscape.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385521707, Hardcover)

A groundbreaking, ambitious, and authoritative examination of Israel by one of the most influential columnists writing about the Middle East today

My Promised Land tells the story of Israel as it has never been told before. Facing unprecedented internal and external pressures, Israel today is at a moment of existential crisis. Through revealing stories of significant events and of ordinary individuals—pioneers, immigrants, entrepreneurs, scientists, army generals, peaceniks, settlers, and Palestinians—Israeli journalist Ari Shavit illuminates many of the pivotal moments of the Zionist century that led Israel to where it is today. We meet the youth group leader who recognized the potential of Masada as a powerful symbol for Zionism; the young farmer who bought an orange grove from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s, and with the Jaffa orange helped to create a booming economy in Palestine; the engineer who was instrumental in developing Israel’s nuclear program; the religious Zionists who started the settler movement. Over an illustrious career that has spanned almost thirty years, Shavit has had rare access to people from across the Israeli political, economic, and social spectrum, and in this ambitious work he tells a riveting story that is both deeply human and of profound historical dimension.

As it examines the complexities and contradictions of the Israeli condition, My Promised Land asks difficult but important questions: Why did Israel come to be? How did it come to be? And can Israel survive? Culminating with an analysis of the issues and threats that Israel is currently facing, both internal and external, My Promised Land uses the defining events of the past to shed new light on the present. The result is a landmark portrait of a small, vibrant country living on the edge, whose identity and presence play a crucial role in today’s global political landscape.

Praise for My Promised Land
 
“With the heart of a storyteller and the mind of a historian, Ari Shavit has written a powerful and compelling book about the making of modern Israel. No country is more emotionally connected to the United States, and no country’s fate matters more to many Americans. And yet, until Shavit’s My Promised Land, it has been growing more difficult to sense the character of Israel through all the caricatures. This book is vital reading for Americans who care about the future, not only of the United States but of the world.”—Jon Meacham
 
“A beautiful, mesmerizing, morally serious, and vexing book. I’ve been waiting most of my adult life for an Israeli to plumb the deepest mysteries of his country’s existence and share his discoveries, and Ari Shavit does so brilliantly, writing simultaneously like a poet and a prophet. My Promised Land is a remarkable achievement.”—Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent, The Atlantic

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:28:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Presents an examination of Israel that traces the events that led the country to its current state of conflict through the stories of everyday citizens to illuminate the importance of lesser-known historical events.

» see all 2 descriptions

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