THE VOCABULARY OF PEACE by Shulamith Hareven


Life, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East
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 A collection of prose pieces focusing on the nature of Israeli society and its relations with Arabs within and without its borders. Israeli novelist and short-story writer Hareven (Twilight and Other Stories, 1992, etc.) writes disapprovingly of the values and ethics of modern Israel. She characterizes the predominant mood of the country as shallow and transient; consumerism predominates, and a selfish subjectivity runs rampant. Thousands of people are killed on the road by ``dilettante drivers.'' The ``dilettante rabbis'' of the ultranationalist Gush Emunim forget that the Torah rejects collective punishment and urges us to respect the rights of non- Jews. Hareven feels that her contemporaries have lost a reverence for the past, exemplified by the Tel Aviv municipality's demolishing its first school, the Gymnasium, to build yet another shopping mall: ``The shmatte business and its attendant fashions take precedence over a historical educational institution.'' Consumerism and superficiality, she feels, characterize the new Israeli. The root of all this, insists Hareven, is the nation's refusal to give up its historical victim status. Israeli Jews think that they are entitled to let loose, free of moral or historical bounds, and to commit atrocities like exiling Arabs from their homes and appropriating their lands. Turning from national pathology to policy, Hareven contends that Israel must evacuate the administered territories, since the alternative is ``permanent potential for war.'' While much of Hareven's writing offers insights and provocation, she tends to blithely dismiss, rather than debate, differing opinions. In her passion to focus on the humanistic concerns of Judaism, she pushes over ritual pillars such as dietary laws and Sabbath observance as not necessary to ``the framework of basic Judaism.'' A thoughtful, disturbing, though often simplistically one- sided view of a complex country and its heterogeneous people.

Pub Date: May 8th, 1995
ISBN: 1-56279-072-2
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995