Genre: Narrative History
Review by: Judy Bobrow
Upon returning from a recent trip to Israel I sat down with My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, to try to unravel the complexities of this extraordinary country. Four hundred and nineteen pages later, I am still under the spell of the fascinating examination of the country, its geography, its people, its religions, its politics, and above all, its challenges.
Written by a leading Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, My Promised Land begins with the story of Shavit’s great grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, a British subject of independent means, who leads a group of twenty-one Zionist pilgrims to Palestine in 1897. Their goal is to evaluate Palestine as a possible homeland for the Jewish people as they are becoming more and more unwelcome in Europe. Shavit takes us on the flat-bottomed steamer on which the pilgrims are traveling, the Oxus, to learn about this group of pilgrims¾what they find and what future they envision.
From this point on, Shavit continues the story through the 20th century and on to the present. We follow events leading up to the founding of the state of Israel and the aftermath. Through the telling of true stories about the pioneers who came, and their descendants, we learn about their struggle to turn the harsh, barren land into farms, orchards, tech centers, nuclear capabilities and cosmopolitan cities. He balances all of that with stories about those left behind in the cloud of fast moving progress those who lost their homes and their land the occupiers and the occupied.
Shavit’s compelling narrative, at times heart warming and at others, heart wrenching, offers no solutions. What it does offer is a kind of blueprint for sorting out the history and the conflict that threatens any hope for peace, not only in the Middle East, but also in the world. It is essential reading for every American. - JB
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