My Promised Land

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

This book was required reading for my Israel class in the spring. Of course, I didn’t read it. I tried and got through a chapter. It was actually very interesting and easy to read, but it was senior spring and I just wanted to hang out with people all day long. When I came back from Israel abruptly, I figured that I would finish the book and see what it had to say. It turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read and was a huge reason why I started Booklog.

1. The story that early Zionists simply didn’t see the Palestinians

This imagery goes along with the “land with no people for a people with no land” claim. But I can’t see this story being anything more than a necessary excuse. How do you go to a new land and not see the people living there? And after you settle and realize there are in fact people there, you keep pretending. The whole conflict is very complicated, but the claim that Zionists didn’t see the Palestinians, literally or figuratively, should not be a talking point.

2. Jaffa oranges

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try these in Israel.

3. Establishment of housing estates showed that early Zionists were practical and did not have time to deal with issues.

Like many other economies that took off, the early generations suffered. They had no time to address problems that were not directly associated with economic growth. The most severe of these problems was the general disregard for the Arab issue. Early Zionists likely knew that coexistence would have eventually become a problem, but there was no time to think about it.

4. Dimona and the Israeli nuclear project

I didn’t learn that much about the Israeli nuclear program in class, although we supposedly spent one session on it… The chapter was really fascinating, and I learned that Israel has never explicitly admitted it has nuclear weapons. The interview style of the book really shines here, as Shavit sits down with those who were responsible for building the site.

5. The settlement movement took off after 1973.

There were most definitely some settlements before then, but Shavit claims that the big wave came after the war. This surprised me at first because settlements are such a central issue now.

6. For Israelis, The Six Day War (1967) was the high and the Yom Kippur War (1973) was the low.

In the former, Israel attacked preemptively and captured the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza, West Bank, and Golan Heights. Israel was clearly the victor and established itself as the regional power. In the latter, an Arab coalition launched a surprise attack on Israel on the holiest day for Jews. Even though the Israelis regained control, the war brought them back to earth. It dawned on Israelis that they would not just have their way in the Middle East. This realization, according to Shavit, marked a turning point for the state.

7. Aryeh Deri – leader of the Shas

I had never heard of him before, but he is one of the most influential Israelis ever. He stood for the minorities – Mizrahi and Orthodox. I learned a lot about the cleavages in Israeli society in class. Given the focus on Israeli-Palestinian tension, it is easy to forget that Israeli Jews are not a homogenous group. Some come from the West, some from the East. Some are ultra traditional, while most are secular. There are Muslims in Israel. There are Jews in the Arab world. Self identity is an issue and can drive the direction of the conflict.

8. Allenby 58 was one of the top clubs in the world back in the day.

According to Google Maps, this was a 7 minute walk from my apartment.

9. Ending occupation will not bring peace.

Shavit fills the last few chapters with somber thoughts. Even if Israel were to get out of its occupied territories now, the conflict would still be there. What about the Palestinians of 1948, he asks. These are the refugees of today. Where can they go? Their homeland is now Israel proper.

10. Interviews-based books are great.

There is nothing better than primary sources. Trying to understand a country requires understanding its people.

As I wrote this, I realized that I’ve forgotten many details about Israel (wars, years). Still, I didn’t even know what Zionism was until this spring. The Israel class was one of my favorite classes in college, and I am glad I had the chance to go there. Every country has its own problems, but I do find Israel’s problems very intriguing. Reading this book gave me further appreciation for the complexity of the conflict. But it also made me ask yet again why people fight. Perhaps I’ve been too lucky in life to have lived in places far from danger. But I do hope that, one day, I can go to Israel and pass through airport security in less than an hour.

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