In the Land of Israel

If you want to understand Israel, you must first understand its enigmatic people.  There is no better writer than Amos Oz to take you on this fascinating journey.

Israeli society is often prone to a manic state of mind that exists on a continuum of bewilderment, admiration and skepticism within the context of the State’s national interests as a member of the global community and the direction needed to ensure a prescription for maintaining a democratic homeland in which Jewish self-determination thrives albeit not at the expense of the country’s minority groups.

Every day, Israelis are bombarded with increasingly pessimistic headlines and troubling commentary regarding the nation’s international and domestic policies.

Even positive elements reflected in the press, such as Israel’s booming high tech sector and its continuing scientific achievements or even Tel Aviv’s popularity as a haven for gay pride, are often disregarded as pro-Israel propaganda – seeking to legitimize and whitewash Israel’s presence in the disputed West Bank territories and the lack of any meaningful steps being taken to create a Palestinian national homeland.

Riding the waves of social media and the blogosphere, it is both unsettling and revealing in terms of the discussion surrounding delegitimization to see the picture of Israel painted as a maniacal apartheid state with a bellicose Napoleonic complex.

However, despite the often-sobering news about Israel’s current state of affairs and the many warts this nation has yet to remove, one cannot deny this modern miracle in state building and the myriad contributions Israel has made to the world.  Even those who question Israel’s existence and would like to see it perish would be foolish deny the unfathomable accomplishments in nearly 65 years of statehood.

The trouble in understanding Israel’s sometimes-questionable policies both domestically and beyond its borders lies within the complexities in the composition of the nation itself.  In order to build a sustainable future – if such a thing even exists – one must first understand the people of Israel and the ironic psyche found within the multitude of sub-cultures and their infusion into a greater, singular Israeli culture.  A worthy explanation must come from someone who is neither an agent of Israeli advocacy (Hasbara) nor an ad executive running a delegitimization campaign against Israel.

By picking-up award winning Israeli author Amos Oz’s In the Land of Israel, both a casual observer of Israel’s role in the Middle East as well as its most fierce critics may have a better understanding of why Israel has had such an arduous time designing its future instead of just focusing on what it has either done or not done to determine the present state of affairs.

In the Land of Israel is an exemplary insight into the dense barriers and enigmatic contradictions that have arisen from the conflicted experiment of a national homeland for the Jewish people.  The work itself is a collection of interviews recorded by Oz during his travels across Israel while working for the now extinct Israeli daily, Davar, and incorporated with his own micro-vignettes and personal expressions as a native Jerusalemite, veteran of two Israeli/Arab wars and a self professed ‘Peacenik’.

Ultimately, the interviews are rekindled – often rebuked, yet surprisingly understood in their context – by the author himself and eventually tied back into the dilemma Israel has with its Palestinian neighbors.

As Oz poignantly explains:

“The clash between Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Arab is a tragedy, not a wild west movie, with good guys and bad guys. It’s a tragedy, because it is a clash between right and right. The Israelis are in Israel because they have nowhere else to go. The Palestinians are in Palestine because they have nowhere else to go. This is a conflict between victims, and between people who both have a just claim to the land.”

He continues to make the reality even clearer and more disturbing by summing up the often hard to accept facts – facts with which both Israelis, Palestinians and all sides partial to the conflict may find difficult to grasp.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a tragedy, a clash between one very powerful, very convincing, very painful claim over this land and another no less powerful, no less convincing claim. Now such a clash between right claims can be resolved in one of two manners. There’s the Shakespeare tradition of resolving a tragedy with the stage hewed with dead bodies and justice of sorts prevails. But there is also the Chekhov tradition. In the conclusion of the tragedy by Chekhov, everyone is disappointed, disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, but alive.”

In the Land of Israel is an essential read for both those that are deeply entrenched with the growing political and moral struggles encompassing daily life in Israel, as well as those that simply want a clearer picture of why Israel continuously finds itself at a crossroads of illusions and perplexing realities.

About the Author
Steve Rubin is an independent writer and researcher based in Tel Aviv. His graduate work was done at Tel Aviv University's Abba Eban School of Diplomacy and holds a B.A. in Spanish and Journalism from the University of Oregon. He is a proud IDF vet. and reservist. Before living in Tel Aviv, Rubin spent his first few years in Israel on Kibbutz Ein Harod Ihud. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealRubin