MY PROMISED LAND: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel
Ari Shavit Spiegel & Grau 2014, pp. 445, $28
An Shavit's book, My Promised Land, will not be of much practical help for peacemakers or policy makers. He does not resolve who has the greater right to Jerusalem, what should happen to refugees, what plots of land should change hands or who will patrol the Jordan Valley. Yet I believe that this book is the one peacemakers and policy makers have to read--precisely because the book is not about politics or diplomacy, but about the memories and narratives that have to be sorted out for any peace settlement to make sense.
"Israel was a narrative before it became a state," Shavit tells me. "But as it became stronger as a state it lost the narrative." The book, he said, is his personal version of that narrative: "It is not about my insights or ideas, or my ideology or politics. The point of the book is to bring Israel back to the human level, to see it as a human drama, and to look at the big picture. That was my mission statement."
The prognosis, the prescriptions, may come in a later book, he said in our two telephone conversations. Or they may not, I think to myself, and this is no criticism of Shavit. He is a journalist, not a politician or diplomat. His mission is to reconnect people (especially Americans) with how things really are and how they came to be that way. Besides, the actual details of the eventual peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians are not the mystery; how to get there is the challenge. And for that, you need first to strip away the passions, the politics and the propaganda.
"At this stage of Israeli history, when Israel is so strong and self-confident, seeing things as they are is not only a moral need but a political need," says Shavit. "Look, I oppose occupation and the settlements, but one of my deeper themes is that it's not only about occupation and settlements, but about the failure of both people to see each other, to acknowledge each other.
"If we reach out and try to achieve some sort of emotional breakthrough on the human level, if we acknowledge the Palestinians' tragedy while being firm and tough in demanding that they see that we belong to the land, that we have returned to land that is ours, then the somewhat sterile political process will be enriched.
"I'm not a flower child. I see reality as it is: Politics is politics, strategy is strategy, but parallel to that we need an emotional, human track...