Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Best Seller: "My Promised Land" by Ari Shavit

The popular book My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit deserves its reputation. The portraits of Israeli individuals, starting with the author’s own great-grandfather in 1897 were vivid. Each chapter depicted an era, epitomized by one or several individuals who embodied the spirt of that age – the essence of history, both negative and positive.

In each era, as Shavit presents it, the vision of the Zionist founders, pioneers, leaders, defenders, settlers, or good citizens contrasts to their blindness towards the Arab inhabitants who were displaced as the country of Israel emerged. However, the author’s sympathy and loyalty to his country allows him to provide nuances, understanding and empathy, as well as a keen analysis of the situation. He sees both sides, but he knows which side he’s on.

I’m not going to write a review, exactly, as this book has been reviewed vastly often including in all the mainstream journals and over 1000 times on I’m going to talk about what it means to me.

In my own reading, I especially enjoyed revisiting my past experiences in Israel as Shavit’s geography introduced me to a great deal of history of places I have been. He was born in Rehovot, where I have spent most of my time during my three visits to Israel, making the descriptions of how the original old orange groves were planted most interesting. Shavit’s promised land may not exactly be my own, but I loved the overlap!

On all three visits to Israel, we stayed at visitor housing in Rehovot, where Len was visiting the Weitmann Institute. Shavit was born here: his father was a physicist. Two photos of the Weizmann campus from our 2006 stay:

He also talks a great deal about the history and impact of Israel’s nuclear program, headquartered at Dimona. While driving from Rehovot to Eilat we once passed by this area – full of warnings to mind your own business, so we did. 
Google map showing the nuclear complex near Dimona (I think)
One high point of that trip was a visit to the moshav at Nahalal. And during all our trips, on several weekend outings, we stayed at various kibbutz accomodations: Shavit obviously has much to say about the history of the moshavs and kibbutzes. I’m not sure he mentions that one way that they have tried to adjust to the way their world has changed is to transform family accommodations for members into tourist accommodations for both Israelis and foreigners.

Moshav Nahalal seen from the Nahalal cemetery.

I never visited any settlements in the West Bank or Gaza, but I found Shavit’s discussion of the settlers extremely enlightening. Don't get the idea that I'm not interested in the political and moral dimensions of his fascinating book. The other reviewers have definitely done them justice -- I'm just describing the other thoughts I had when reading, and the expanded historical dimension that his writing offered me.

A tower in Ramleh, near Rehovot,
which I saw without knowing what I was seeing.
Shavit's book has provided me with much more insight.


Jeanie said...

This is a fascinating post, Mae, mostly because it speaks so much of you and your experiences, which I enjoyed hearing about. The photos are wonderful, too. I love it when I find a book that tells me more about spots I have been than I knew before. Wonderful post and the book sounds great!

Geraldine Saucier said...

This book is on my reading list. How lucky you were to visit Israel. I have always wanted to go there.