The Israeli journalist Ari Shavit’s latest American bestselling book “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” offers a disheartening outlook, a definite but skewed reality, and a detrimental PR for Israel.
The book is very well written (Ari Shavit must have had a brilliant editor); it’s an attention-grabbing page-turner, but at the same time, it reinforces the Arab agenda of delegitimizing the state of Israel. Lacking proper background knowledge or understanding of the particular history before reading the book, may serve to convince the ignorant reader that the Palestinians’ claims to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, the Galilee, Lydda, etc. is absolutely justified. And the Jews, the Zionists, and the Israelis are the latest Crusaders whose time in the holy land is fleeting, as it will soon run out. The book lets the naïve reader be persuaded that the state of Israel will implode as the population time bomb continues its steady march toward doomsday, while the extreme right continues to tear down any chance for peace by colonizing the West Bank (a.k.a. Judea and Samaria), whereas the new materialistic and fun-seeking generation of young Israelis are completely disconnected from the ideals and the spirit of their forefathers—the Zionists founders of the Jewish state.
Ari Shavit believes that he is a Zionist. He makes sure that the reader knows that he is in love with Israel; that he admires the Israeli resourcefulness and innovative spirit, and that he approves of the original Zionists’ goal of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, a goal, which according to Shavit, was accomplished via ethnic cleansing and a Palestinian Nakba. The goal justified the means, in Shavit’s opinion, because there was no other choice. But, although Ari Shavit rationalizes the 1948 Jewish cruelty toward the Palestinian Arabs, he has missed a couple of important points. The 1948 war was a war of survival for the Jews in Palestine. Eastern Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc Jews suffered similar, if not worse fate at the hands of the Arabs. These two areas were cleansed of its surviving Jews—those who had not been killed or massacred during the Arab onslaught. And had the Jews lost the war—a scenario that seemed quite plausible during the earlier days—a new holocaust would have dawned on the Jewish community in Palestine. Ari Shavit failed to emphasize that the war was launched by the Arabs—not by the Jews. The Arabs’ intent was loud and clear—killing the Zionists and throwing them into the sea. But Ari Shavit makes it sound differently. He lets the reader perceive the Jews as the aggressors, the ethnic cleansers, the killers of innocents. He lets the reader perceive the Arabs as the innocent victims. And although he approves of the ugly measures taken by the Zionists in pursuing the founding of their state, he does not tell the whole truth; he does not convey the fact that it was those same Arabs who started the ugliness, the killings, the massacres; he does not make the reader understand that the Jews fought a defensive, desperate war of survival.
The second missed point is the fact that readers have selective memory. After reading the book, many will only hark back to the killing in Deir Yassin and the ethnic cleansing of Lydda and the Galilee; they won’t understand the reasons for it, nor will they know that these beastly actions were an integral component of a zero-sum-game that had taken place during the 1948 war of Jewish independence. Had these events not come to pass, Jewish Jerusalem would not have survived, the Jewish State would not have been viable, and Ari Shavit would not have had the good life he revels in today.
But the most disheartening aspect of the book is its implicit conclusions.
Ari Shavit makes sure that the reader understands and legitimizes the feelings harbored by Arabs toward the Jewish State. He makes it clear that what the Arabs refer to as “the Nakba”—the Arabs’ catastrophe, stemmed from the creation of the Jewish State—will always be the core of the Middle East conflict. In fact, Ari Shavit’s leftist ideology that strives for a peaceful co-existence with the Palestinian Arabs is also the one pointing to the only conclusion — that peace between Arabs and Jews is impossible as long as Israel exists. Shavit makes it clear that what the Arabs refer to as the occupied territory is not limited to the west bank; it includes the territory occupied in the 1948 war; it includes pre-1967 Israel.
And although Ari Shavit is adamantly opposed to the west bank settlements; although he sees those as the main obstacle to peaceful co-existence, he, at the same time, makes the case that there is no difference between colonizing the west bank and the colonization of pre-1948 Palestine. This contradiction is threading throughout the book, and it becomes one of its major takeaways.
I could not help but thinking of the damage done by Ari Shavit’s book to the Israeli struggle against Arabs’ attempts to delegitimize its existence. Ari Shavit told us the truth; he did not tell the whole truth, and he painted his version of the partial truth with colors he had viewed through his own left-minded kaleidoscope. I could not help but thinking that the Israeli Shavit is much like Edward Snowden, the American who exposed the NSA secret files, methods and extent of surveillance programs. Both believed that they acted out of patriotism; both brought to light part of the hidden truth they believed had to be exposed. Both failed to dilute the ugly part of the truth with the reason for its being or by countering it with the far greater beneficial part. Both impressed upon their audience that their part of the truth is the whole deal and that it is plain evil. Both failed to understand the damage they had done by aiding the enemies of their state, and by distancing its friends. And both became American celebrities through their actions.
Although I found the book interesting, captivating and extremely well written, I could not recommend it to others or rate it highly because I was distracted by its one-sidedness and unfair depiction of my own promised land—the land of Israel.