Walking Israel – A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation

Martin Fletcher, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Griffin (2010).

During the summer of 2008, the author spent two weeks trekking along the coast of Israel, starting at the northern border with Lebanon and ending in the south at the tension-filled border with the Gaza Strip. Many Americans will recognize Fletcher from his longtime role as a special correspondent for NBC News stationed in Israel.

I picked up his book for two reasons. I’ve read a lot of Palestinian authors and thought I needed to balance myself out a bit. I’ve also been thinking seriously of becoming a pilgrim along the Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Walking has been on my mind. I was intrigued to learn what he might discover on his walk along the coast in Israel and I was not disappointed.

Fletcher is not an inexperienced walker.

“He walked across the Hindu Kush mountains from Pakistan into Afghanistan with the Mujahideen, he was the only television reporter to join the Khmer rouge in Cambodia, and the only reporter to enter the American embassy in Tehran when Iranian students held American diplomats hostage for 444 days.”

Author Martin Fletcher

Author Martin Fletcher

The author writes:

Walking Israel is a rather different sort of book about the people and society of modern Israel. I don’t emphasize, as have most authors, the blood feud between Jews and Arabs and their numbing peace plans, nor do I provide an account of the City of Peace, Jerusalem, or follow the footsteps of Jesus. Rather, I relate my own personal journey of discovery along an often ignored but fascinating landscape that was such a beacon of hope for me that desperate night: Israel’s historic coast.

Walking Israel

Fletcher is Jewish married to an Israeli Jew but he’s clearly not an apologist for the State of Israel. His reporting skills and attention to detail shine through in his narrative.

Along his journey, he meets many people whose stories are woven into the history, the landscape and the current events he describes. Throughout the book, he puts down his journalist’s pen and notebook, and seems to turn more contemplative.

“Both peoples remain stuck in the role of victims. Palestinians cannot break free of their calamity in 1948, when they lost much of their land, while Israelis fear another Holocaust.”

After he completed the walk, he spent time researching some of the people and places he visited. I suspect anyone reading this book is going to have a good sense of what makes the Israeli soul click — both the Jews and Arabs living in Israel.

“This gap between Arabs and Jews — it’s getting worse, and more dangerous. There is growing frustration among young Israeli Arabs who don’t accept automatic discrimination. This is a new generation, and that’s what Jews don’t understand. These are not the mukhtars and the elders who accepted everything, the ‘Good Arabs’. The new generation are more enlightened, more educated, more aware of their rights, and they’re prepared to fight. They are going to fight, and they will instigate the next intifada, which will be inside Israel. The leaders are already pushing the Israeli Arabs to revolt. It’s boiling. It will explode in our faces. It’s only a matter of time.”

I wonder if Martin Fletcher has met Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer and author who walked over the hills in the West Bank for decades watching them being gobbled up by Israeli settlements. He wrote Palestinian Walks – Notes on a Vanishing Landscape in 2008.  The two men really should sit down together for some chai and compare notes.

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