Ari Shavit has carefully researched, and thoroughly laid out, the path of the Jews over the last troubled century. He includes all relevant information, including the settlements, peace negotiations and assassinations. He outlines the guilt Israelis must bear for the situation in which they find themselves, and he explains why, what they did, though perhaps excessively brutal, at times, was absolutely necessary for the survival of Israel. In this book, Ari is bearing witness; Ari is expressing his fear for the safety and very existence of his beloved country.
The occupation has done irreparable harm to Israel, the influx of immigrants steeped in Orthodoxy has hurt the economy, and the Oslo Accords sold Israel out, giving the Arabs the upper hand, recognizing them even as they refused to recognize Israel. The problem of the occupation remained on the table, unsolved, and the Arabs refused to give up the right of return, which would effectively destroy Israel as a Jewish state. The simple, stark sentences describing the terror attacks, force the reader to witness the fear felt by all Israelis, children and adults alike. Without that, the reader could not understand what motivates them or how they manage to survive in such a climate of unrest. The stories of success cataloged within the pages of the book show the strength, courage and perseverance of the Jews who settled in Israel. They were determined to snatch success from the jaws of defeat and they did.
When the winds of Antisemitism grew in Europe with Hitler's rise to power, and war loomed on the forefront, the Arabs sided with Hitler. By 1938, the number murdered on both sides of the divide in Israel, increased, with more dead on the Arab side. However, while fringe groups were killing Arabs and were condemned by the Zionists and the Jewish community, the Arab national leadership and public supported the murder of the Jews. In 1942, with war raging in Europe, with Jews being exterminated by the millions, the Jews in Israel transformed themselves into a defensive people, fighting back to save those that survived and to show the world they would no longer give up without a struggle. Driven to be violent by the violence around them, they became a force to be reckoned with, and they paid a great price for that stature. Do modern- day Jews understand that Israel is what holds them together, is what provides the fabric of their future existence?
When Israel was being challenged, the Jews refused to lay down and die again, refused to be conquered once more. It was kill or be killed, and so they killed. It was a hard choice, but fighting back was the realistic choice, possibly their only choice. Yes, morally, some of it was reprehensible. The choice was to expel the Arabs to save the Jews or acquiesce and watch the end of Judaism, for there was no place else in the world for Jews to feel totally free and safe, other than Israel, their own land. Zionism needed to save itself. Jews did not want to go back to the old ways, to wandering, to waiting for the messiah, they wanted to hold onto the road they had, and instead, pave the way for his arrival.
In their effort to become superior, they grew arrogant. The moral fiber of the country changed. Constant fighting demoralized the population. The young now want pleasure first and are no longer nationalistic first. They want to be happy. Drugs and sex preoccupy them. The moral turpitude that pervades many western countries has traveled there. The percentage of people working grows smaller and the percentage of people receiving benefits grows larger. Education standards and accomplishments are declining. In an effort to halt this downward spiral, they have tightened their belts, but still, the workforce has to increase so that there are more hands feeding the pot than feeding from it. Israel cannot sustain this environment and continue as a viable country. They need to encourage and restore a deep love for their country, at home and in countries abroad. They need to encourage the indigent to work, the ultra Orthodox and Arabs to contribute, because right now, there are too few people contributing, and the system cannot sustain that kind of financial inequity. They need to restore and maintain a moral climate in which sex, drugs and entertainment are not the mainstay of the young. They need to restore the love of country that once drove them all to succeed beyond all expectations.
This is a painful book to read. It is difficult to acknowledge the wrong done by the Jews, and at the same time, it is important to understand why. In the end, it does not matter who fired the first shot across the bow, what matters is the end result, and Israel’s future was, and still is, at stake. With honesty and clarity, Ari Shavit explains Israel’s raison d’etre and his hopes for its future.