My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

My Promised Land is a profoundly inspiring and challenging book. It is an intensely personal impression of a country, for which the writer has intense admiration and affection but also grave misgivings. Israel was founded on a paradox. The ideals of Zionism embodied the rights to freedom, to self determination, to safety and to a just society – politically and economically. The early Zionists were amazingly successful in creating a real living society that incorporated these ideals but the creation of this society required the displacement of millions of people, often quite harshly.

Ari Shavit, a leading Israeli journalist and a columnist for Haaretz, does not shy away from any aspect of Israeli history or society. He speaks lovingly and admiringly of the Zionist movement and what it achieved in a harsh land. But he also writes of a massacre of Palestinians in the town of Lydda, and how the survivors were forced to leave their homes for the refugee camps in Jordan – he acknowledges that the Israeli soldiers ‘did dirty work that enables myself, my daughter and my sons to live’.

Shavit explores how the State of Israel has evolved, and what it has become. There is much that worries him but he does not have the answers: ‘If Israel does not retreat from the West Bank, it will be politically and morally doomed, but if it does retreat, it might face an Iranian-backed and Islamic Brotherhood-inspired West Bank regime whose missiles could endanger Israel’s security.’ This is not a history of Israel; it is a beautifully written reflection on a complex society by a compassionate and intelligent participant. It is essential reading.

Mark Rubbo