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The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by Ari Shavit

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-52170-3
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Israel has betrayed its best, truest self, argues Haaretz journalist and peace activist Shavit in this wrenching dissection of the nation's past and present.

Born in 1957, the author is the descendant of intellectuals and idealists who brought Zionism to the shores of Palestine at the turn of the 20th century. The author's great-grandfather, a successful British solicitor, first visited Palestine in 1897 with a Zionist delegation; his reports on the marvels of progress and modernization that he witnessed there gave Theodor Herzl hope that a deprived people could create a future in their ancient homeland. To note that Palestine was in fact already populated, as one of the delegates dared to do, was received as “scandalous heresy” by his fellow Zionists. The movement's denial of Palestinians’ existence, Shavit contends, meant that first Zionism and subsequently the state of Israel were established on a rotten, unstable foundation. Step by step, the author follows the Zionist dream as it played out in Israel. Kibbutz socialism initially had great success as the pioneer generation rebelled against the “daunting Jewish past of persecution and wandering.” But tit-for-tat violence, fueled by global anti-Semitism and Arab nationalism, led to a “messianic impulse” that the author believes ran amok with the West Bank settlements initiated in 1975. While on military reserve duty, Shavit served as a guard in an internment camp for Palestinians; his searing account of the grim conditions there, “On Gaza Beach” (published in the New York Review of Books in 1991), made a seminal statement of his despairing belief that innocence is finished in his native country. Various internal revolts have riven Israeli society, Shavit writes, rendering it as chaotic as “an extravagant bazaar.” His effective mix of autobiographical reflections and interviews with key participants peters out toward the end into journalistic snippets, but that hardly muffles the overall impact of his anguished cri de coeur.

Thoughtful, sobering reflections on a seemingly intractable conflict.