Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers is an epic narrative of modern Israeli history, detailing the transformation of Israeli society following the Six Day War.
In June, 1967, Israel stunned its Arab neighbors and the entire world with a swift victory against seemingly insurmountable odds, capturing east Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Just six years later, Egypt and Syria launched coordinated attacks on Israel’s northern and southern borders, catching IDF commanders and government leaders by surprise and destroying the myth of Israel’s invincibility.
Years of euphoria immediately following the Six Day War were replaced by a period of uncertainty that not only questioned who was responsible for the Yom Kippur War failures, but also how Israel should relate to the appropriated territories. In many ways, Israel is still facing the consequences of those two wars today.
There are many ways to write the history of a nation. It is possible to describe the military campaigns and the political maneuvering in a very dry, detail-filled fashion, the way most history books record the passing of time. Or, alternatively, one can make history come alive by bringing the stories of the individuals involved to the forefront, highlighting their actions, thoughts, and fears in such a way that we feel we are living their experiences with them.
In Like Dreamers, author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi relates the stories of seven Israeli paratroopers, members of the IDF reservists’ Brigade 55. This unit was involved in the operation that liberated the city of Jerusalem; its soldiers were among the first to recapture the Temple Mount and fall entranced when viewing the stones of the Western Wall. Six years later, the very same unit took part in the successful, but costly Israeli counterattack against the Egyptian army, securing a beachhead on the western side of the Suez Canal.
Seven paratroopers, seven stories
The seven paratroopers depicted in this very readable account are real people, emerging from parallel idealistic tracks of agrarian kibbutz life and religious Zionism to converge in the same army unit and witness comrades falling in Israel’s defense. Following military service, evolving beliefs and changing realities take these seven paratroopers in different directions that reflect the changes and chasms forming in Israeli society.
One of the former kibbutzniks, Arik Achmon, helps develop Israel’s domestic aviation industry, and in doing so assists in the country’s shift from socialism to capitalism. Another, Meir Ariel, emerges as a Hebrew poet-singer who later becomes an observant Jew, while Avital Geva becomes active in the Peace Now anti-occupation movement. On the other side of the political spectrum, Yoel Bin-Nun helps establish the Gush Emunim settlement movement and Hanan Porat becomes the first settler elected to the Knesset.
All along our journey through the years we meet additional leaders who play critical roles in Israel’s history, among them IDF commander and later chief of staff Motta Gur, Hebron rabbi Moshe Levinger, and Merkaz Harav Yeshiva head Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook. Colorful insights of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, chief rabbi Shlomo Goren, singer Shalom Hanoch, and other political and military leaders further tie the narrative to real events. The point of these famous appearances is not for the sake of name-dropping, but to demonstrate how deeply the seven highlighted paratroopers are integrated into all aspects of Israeli society.
Like Dreamers tells the story of modern Israel in a narrative form that could easily be grasped as suspenseful fiction, except for the fact that everything is true. The book is both compelling and exhaustive, and is based on the author’s ten years of extensive research and interviews with veterans of the 55th Reservist Paratrooper Brigade, settlers, religious Zionists, kibbutzniks, and peace activists. The author successfully and objectively deals with the most difficult issues facing Israel today, relating parallel stories on a wide canvas and explaining the development of opposing viewpoints without overbearing political ideology.
As a result of the author’s attention to both detail and story-telling, Like Dreamers emerges as an epic masterpiece that will undoubtedly take its place among the most highly regarded Israeli history texts.