In the past year, numerous books were published about the State of Israel. Three of the best were Aharon Bregman’s “Cursed Victory: A History of the Occupied Territories”, Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” and Yossi Klein Halevi’s “Like Dreamers”.
My favourite was Klein Halevi’s “Like Dreamers”. Tracking post-’67 Israel through the lives of a handful of paratrooper reservists who participated in the capture of East Jerusalem (including the Old City) from Jordan during the Six Day War; this also proved the most readable of the three books. All those written about were exceptional individuals representing pillars of the Israeli state: socialist farmers and activists from the Kibbutzim, the Messianic Rabbis most responsible for the settlement enterprise and artists and businessmen who transformed the country into the vibrant social and economic melting pot we know today. The men who captured my imagination the most were Yoel Bin-Nun (student of Rav Kook and founder of the ideological settlements close to Nablus and Ramallah), Avital Geva (farmer and conceptual artist who campaigned to preserve the failing Kibbutzim) and Udi Aviv (radical Communist who was recruited by Syrian intelligence to form an anti-Zionist underground terrorist network).
Shavit’s “My Promised Land” was also good. Rather than following a handful of key individuals, he dedicates a chapter to the most important events in Israeli history and discusses its impact on the country: pre-state farming in communities such as Rechovot, the War of Independence in 1948, building the first settlements in the northern West Bank, Intifadas and even the creation of nuclear programme at Dimona. While well-written and compelling it, at times, lacked depth. Shavit certainly went for breadth, and at that he was unquestionably very successful. But it could also be self-flagellating, to the extent of bordering on irritating. Klein Halevi makes no apologies for Israeli history’s darkest moments. He simply offers a nuanced reading of them whereas the reader can almost hear Shavit tearing up over them, but at the same time basically saying how they were OK as they let him and his family live as they do today.
Bregman’s “Cursed Victory…” was very interesting. It is exactly what it says on the cover: “A History of the Occupied Territories” but primarily takes a diplomatic perspective. Rather than writing about Israeli policy towards Palestinians in the West Bank, Bregman focussed more on various peace processes with Jordan, Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian Authority after the Six Day War. Unfortunately, the details were often exhausting making the book unnecessarily dry. While Shavit and Klein Halevi’s works were very accessible, Bregman’s was far more suited to the scholar than the layman. Having said that though, with perseverance it makes an excellent starting volume for a serious study of regional peace processes.