My Promised Land – The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

By Ari Shavit – Spiegel & Grau (2013)

Some family and friends have questioned my objectivity, fairness, and impartiality about Israel and Palestine. Perhaps many more are thinking, but not verbalizing, their concerns.

I admit it. In recent years, I’ve read many more books written by authors (both Palestinians and Israelis) who share a Palestinian perspective, than authors who are cheerleaders for Israel, and I make no apologies.

The American and Western mainstream media have done a fine job of promoting the Israeli narrative to Western audiences. I grew up as a child in the 1950s and 1960s in Midwest America fully indoctrinated into the Zionist worldview. In fact, I remember being absolutely befuddled when I heard the words “Palestine” and “Palestinians” as a teenager.  Who were those people? What was their history? Where was their country?

So I’ve been playing catch-up for my poor education. My Recommended Reading list is a partial summary of the books that I’ve found helpful.

Now I add a book to my list of recommendations written by an Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, who shares his deep and passionate love for Israel with a clearly intelligent and nuanced look at its flaws.

From the author’s website:

Ari Shavit is a leading Israeli columnist and writer. Born in Rehovot, Israel, Shavit served as a paratrooper in the IDF and studied philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jersualem. In the 1980s he wrote for the progressive weekly Koteret Rashit, in the early 1990s he was chairperson of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and in 1995 he joined Haaretz, where he serves on the editorial board. Shavit is also a leading commentator on Israeli public television. He is married, has a daughter and two sons, and lives in Kfar Shmariahu.

My Promised Land is both the author’s personal story and his well-researched history of the Zionist dream, its amazing trajectory over the past century, and its uncertain future. The author’s passionate love for the State of Israel helped me understand why Israelis and pro-Israel advocates have so much pride in this relatively recent experiment on the shores of the Mediterranean. But I wouldn’t have continued reading if the book was merely a cheerleader’s manuscript for the miracle of Zionism. It wasn’t.

Perhaps because of his love and hope for Israel’s future, Ari Shavit looks critically at its flaws and faults. Not an easy task but one which we might all try to emulate from our positions of relative certitude. As I turned the pages, I really appreciated the author’s story-telling ability as well as his ability to connect the different generations of immigrants. The author had access to many people in power and influence, and his interviews included in this book are very revealing for the insight he shares through their voices —- including their hopes and fears.

Smart and intelligent people inside and outside of Israel/Palestine can easily fall into the trap of demonizing the antagonist, the “other”. Each side (me included) has dehumanized the “other” which Gideon Levy writes about so poignantly. Ari Shavit humanizes the Zionists. I don’t agree with them, I don’t share their vision for the future, and I certainly condemn them for the injustices they perpetrate against the Palestinians every day. But Zionists are humans, they have hopes and dreams and fears, just as the Palestinians do. We need to know them, understand what makes them tick, just as much as I wish Zionists would get to know and understand Palestinians. Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the Zionists.

Please don’t jump to the last chapter, first, and read the author’s conclusions. But I’ll share that he believes there are four possible futures waiting for the next generation(s) of Israelis and at this point he doesn’t know which it will be.

(1) Israel is a criminal state that carries out ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories,

(2) Israel is an apartheid state,

(3) Israel is a binational state, or

(4) Israel is a Jewish-democratic state retreating with much anguish to a border dividing the land.

His nuanced analysis of the challenges and threats to the State of Israel are, quite necessarily, based on his history and his perspective as a well-educated and well-connected Zionist. He asks tough questions as he travels through Israel looking for answers. We can only hope there are many more Ari Shavits in Israel searching for answers.

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