I was looking for a good comprehensive book on Israel, and instead of a pure non-fiction history text, I found My Promised Land, one of the most nuanced and complicated books on the country by Israeli journalist Ari Shavit. Shavit was formerly a writer for Haaretz, a centre-left newspaper in Israel, and this progressive Israeli viewpoint often doesn’t make it to North America.
This book is based on roughly chronological chapters, each looking at a different facet of Israel’s history and present. Shavit has incredible access to interview Israeli leaders, as well as several Palestinian voices, and weaves those stories in with his family’s own story as early pre-1948 Zionist settlers. My Promised Land covers early Zionism, kibbutzes, the Palestinian conflict, the creation of Israel and Israeli identity, Arab-Israeli relations, Israel and Iran’s nuclear positions, the Peace movement, internal political divisions, the wars and conflicts Israel and its neighbours have been in since 1948, and Israel’s international position and relation with the American Jewish community.
Shavit picks through some of the deepest inherent issues in Israel with a focus on the actual people involved and their motivations. He doesn’t have any easy answers, and I appreciate that, because many of the contradictions and tensions surrounding Israel don’t have easy answers. Shavit is protective of Israel, but clearly no fan of Netanyahu’s government. He is critical of the ultra-Orthodox community, while also condemning internal prejudices against non-Ashkenazi Jews in Israel, as well as searching for a way to balance his own Zionism with the historical and present treatment of Palestinians. It’s a nuanced book packed with information, and I feel it’s definitely given me a much deeper look into how Israelis see their own country.