A nuanced view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by a former foot soldier in the long war.
Now an editor, journalist and translator, Watzman grew up in suburban Washington, acquiring a strong interest in Jewish identity as a bookish adolescent “so physically inept that any team forced to take him in gym class got two extra players as compensation.” Stunned by the UN resolution of 1975 equating Zionism and racism, he determined to learn more about the Palestinian conflict, and he found Israel wanting—but, he adds, did not join other left-leaning intellectuals in subjecting Israel to higher standards of moral behavior than other nations and then concluding, “when it fails the test . . . that the Jewish state ought not exist at all.” Enlisting in the Israeli army, Watzman took his place in Company C, an infantry unit descended from the storied Jerusalem Brigade; his narrative recounts two decades’ service as a frontline soldier and reservist, some of it under harrowing circumstances that surely toughened him, though he gamely admits that he still can’t throw a grenade far. His fellow soldiers, he notes, were religious or nonreligious in quite various degrees; because he was observant, some of his comrades took him as ultranationalist, though he emerges from the trials by fire as ever more willing to seek a peaceful solution, ever more tired of bloodshed. Though many in Company C opposed the Oslo peace process, he urged a different view: “If we on the left could demonstrate that the Palestinians were sincere and reliable partners in peace, we could neutralize some of the opposition to accommodation.” Even though committed to looking for peaceful solutions, Watzman argues the need for his fellow citizen-soldiers to do their duty to country and God, “if for no other reason than it gives you the right to argue with Him and with those who claim to know exactly what He wants.”
An Israeli version of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead (2004), both hard-nosed and thoughtful—and most illuminating.