My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received an ARC of My Promised Land by Ari Shavit from Random House Publishing Group and from Library Thing First Readers Group in return for which I agreed to write a review. The opinions expressed in my review are my own.
It was obvious to me from the very beginning of this fascinating and informative book that for Ari Shavit writing this history of those who developed and continue to nourish the state of Israel was a labor of love. The whole atmosphere of this reading experience was one of devotion to telling Israel's story from the beginning of the state to the present time as well as hopes for the future. It was done as factually as possible by telling the story directly from as many people who were able to share what they experienced in the context of the time frame in which these events occurred. For each of the participants, in sharing their personal experience, the passion, courage, and attitude to never give up on the formation of the Israeli state is a constant. The dedication to forming a state as well as providing it with the continued devotion to having it remain relevant and viable as an entity to be reckoned with globally is an inspiration and testament to the strength of the human spirit.
As Shavit puts it, "Israel is a nation-state founded in the heart of the Arab world... A wide circle of 350 million Arabs surrounds the Zionist state and threatens its very existence." An inner circle of 10 million Palestinians also poses a threat to Israel's ability to survive. Given those numbers, Israel doesn't appear to have much going for it. Unless, of course, the sheer will power to exist as a free society is taken into account. Israel is continued proof that people with one specific goal in mind, the right and necessity to have and keep a homeland, is motivation enough to succeed no matter what the cost.
The subtitle to My Promised Land is 'The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel'. Shavit begins his story with the arrival in Jaffa of 30 passengers from London, England, among whom is is his great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich. It is Bentwich who believes that Jews must settle in their ancient homeland. Shavit follows the route his great-grandfather took upon arrival in Jaffa, and he continues throughout the book to visit all the areas in which early settlers were faced with challenge after challenge in learning how to live productively in places that were essentially undeveloped. He tells how these settlers learned to work the land. If technology did not exist to support their activity, they invented it themselves. The dedication of those people was awe inspiring. They had to be creative, practical, and find sources of income to support these new ideas in agriculture which led to more development in other areas of setting up a life style. Those early years were full of back breaking labor, but no matter what the challenge someone always came through with answers. The result was the development of the orange industry in Jaffa which distributed the fruit throughout Europe.
There are many success stories throughout Israel's history many of which I was unaware. What stands out most about the story of the Jews who came to settle the Israeli state is those who survived the Holocaust. Before Shavit details that, he writes about Masada. For me, that is one of the most heart breaking, and yet inspiring, events in history. I was familiar with the Masada story, but I did not know about the events in the 20th century that led to the revisiting of Masada as a historical shrine. I found Shavit's retelling of the Masada story to be riveting.
There are times when Shavit makes very clear his opinions on certain events in Israel's history, particularly those decisions with which he does not agree. He holds strong opinions about Israel's development of nuclear weapons as well as the continuing struggle over Israel's Occupation of disputed Palestinian territory. I do not agree with some of the conclusions Shavit draws on those two subjects in particular. The Israeli people have been persecuted for thousands of years, and there was a well thought out plan to annihilate the entire Jewish population from the face of the earth. In view of that history, I believe Israel has every right to do what it needs to do to protect itself. There was no voice of reason dominant enough to stop the murder of over 6 million people. There were no effective "peaceniks" speaking out nor taking the measures necessary to stop the murder of so many innocent people. For me, that's a lesson learned. If Israel doesn't stick up for its own, no one else is going to do it for them. I think it's easy to sit back and take a moralistic attitude; it's much more difficult to live each day knowing the Arab world does not follow that same lofty position.
With that said, I still highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Israel along with the dedication of the men and women who brought a dream of statehood to fruition. Shavit does an excellent job of presenting all sides of the issues Israel faced in the past and what they will have to face in the future if they want to remain a viable global entity. I wish I could give this book a rating higher than 5 Stars. It's worth at least a 10.
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