By Chet Yarbrough
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel
Narrated by Paul Boehmer
“My Promised Land” is a masterpiece of modern history, a story of Israel told by an Israeli.
Ari Shavit is a journalist from a storied “first family” of Israel. In Shavit’s pursuit of truth, listeners’ are offered a well written and researched history of the Jewish diaspora (Jews living outside Israel) and return to a beloved country; at the same time, Shavit explains how and why the same beloved county is populated and dearly coveted by Palestinians. It is because of the land–the sand and soil of both Arab and Jewish forefathers.
Shavit reveals intertwined truths about Israel and its place in the world. He explores a one-state and two-state solution for peace in the Middle East. Shavit acknowledges Israeli’ ambivalence about Jewish settlement, occupation, and Palestinian ghettoization; Shavit explains how Jewish experience in WWII pervades Israeli’ consciousness. It binds the country together and tears it apart. The binding together comes from the holocaust’s common ancestral experience. The tearing apart comes from Jewish empathy for uprooting and isolating indigenous Palestinians.
Shavit’s history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict reminds one of America’s early history when he writes about a one-state solution for peace. In the early years of the civil war, even Lincoln wrestled with the idea of a two state solution for slavery but realized it evaded the heart of the issue; i.e. the inalienable truth that all men are created equal.
Shavit describes the hatred, distrust, and ambivalence between Palestinians and Israelis. One wonders–is the Israeli-Arab conflict different from the feeling of American abolitionists in the North and cotton farmers in the South?
Palestinians’ Jewish’ hatred comes from Israeli’ settlement and occupation, particularly when accompanied by brutal expulsion; the Israeli’ hate comes from Palestinian’ terrorism—is this hate different from the South’s hate of the North during and after the Civil War?
How different is American expulsion of native American Indians in “The Trail of Tears”, or Mexican expulsion during Texas and California statehood? How different is Palestinian’ terrorism from the rape and pillage of Quadrille’s raiders or Sherman’s march to the Sea during the Civil War?
Shavit shows how Palestinian’ and Israeli’ distrust comes from the experience of living in the same territory with different religions, languages, and beliefs. Is that different from the distrust between Quakers and Southern Baptists, or non-English speaking immigrants and English pioneers, American Indians and English/European and other settlers, or abolitionist and slave owners in the American Civil War?
Shavit explains why Israelis are ambivalent about how they, as a country, are dealing with the Palestinians. Ambivalence comes from the Jew’s holocaust survival, persecution held in common, and ghetto experience.
Historically, ambivalence is also a trait of many Americans. Americans killed Americans in the Civil War. Americans killed and ghettoized Indians in the 19th century. Americans enslaved Africans between the 16th and 19th century. How many Americans feel the same level of ambivalence as Israelis? There are many kinds of guilt and experience that make one ambivalent about what they have done or what they do.
So, why are Palestinians and Israelis unable to agree on a one-state solution with a democratically elected government? Shavit’s, “My Promised Land” explains why American history is not a good comparison. As one listens to more of what Shavit writes, one understands the comparison’s inadequacy.
Shavit would disagree with an American history comparison because of demographics and geography. The Middle East is populated by 422 million Arabs. Israel is surrounded by Arab nation-states while two of four of America’s borders are vast oceans. The number of Jews in the world is less than 14 million with an estimated 8 million living in Israel. How could one democratic nation-state, populated by an overwhelming majority of Arabs, protect Israeli’ human rights in a one-state democracy?
Also, Shavit points to the fact that religion is less of a binding influence for Israelis; in part because of the diaspora that fragmented Jewish tradition and belief. Further, Shavit notes there is a growing secular Jewish population that is drifting away from religion and away from a culture of conservation to a culture of plenty. It is the same drifting seen in America; a younger generation has more interest in comfort than sacrifice; leisure than labor; spending than saving. Today’s comfort is more important than tomorrow’s possibility for today’s youth.
Shavit regrets the loss of Israeli’ vision and leadership that once held Israel’s establishment as a paramount objective. The loss of the kibbutz movement reduced social cohesion and common purpose of pre-1967 Israel. He feels Israel has become too anarchic and unfocused.
Shavit believes early Jewish atrocities and nuclear power ambitions were justified by the imminent need for a safe Jewish homeland. Now, Shavit feels the 1967 war, and more importantly the 1973 Yom Kippur War, fragmented rather than solidified Israel’s place in history. Shavit infers Israel’s existence is more fragile today than it was prior to 1967.
Shavit sees that a two-state solution is equally problematic; partly because of the change in Israeli’ culture noted earlier. Shavit believes violence and duplicity in mid-twentieth century Israel were necessary to fulfill the Balfour declaration of 1917 but the 1967 and 1973 wars created an Israeli’ garrison state that demoralized both Israelis and Palestinians; i.e. Israeli’ leaders were holocaust survivors that were slipping into behavior similar to WWII atrocities while Palestinians could sit and wait because demographics, if not nuclear war, would ultimately destroy Israel.
Though the Arab world instigated the 1967 war, their defeat in six days by Israel and the loss of the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights hardened hatred between the two protagonists. An island of 8 million Jews among 422 million Arabs seems tenuous, at best, and unattainable at worst. To defeat an enemy is one thing; to humiliate is another.
This is only a small part of many insightful observations made by an excellent journalist–the only missing ingredient in “My Promised Land” is an Arab journalist who can equal Shavit’s fearless examination of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from an Arab point of view.
One senses doom in Shavit’s history of Israel. Love of Israel is not enough; even with its remarkable people. It seems only a matter of time for Israel to become another lost civilization; more than a footnote to history but still, a lost civilization, a fate of all great nations.