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Friday, September 27, 2013

One for your reading list

The New York Times' Ethan Bronner reviews Yossi Klein HaLevi's Like Dreamers. This is from the first link.
Mr. Halevi, an American immigrant who has worked as a journalist and analyst in Jerusalem for 30 years, has created a textured, beautifully written narrative by focusing on seven men — and they are all men — Mr. Porat among them, who served in the paratroop brigade that conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war. The seven took distinct paths, a few becoming settler leaders, others active on the left, and in the arts and music. One sought common cause with Palestinian revolutionaries and, after a trip to Damascus, ended up in an Israeli prison for 12 years. By accompanying these men across the decades we gain a close understanding of many of the country’s internal debates. 
[T]he men Mr. Halevi has chosen are compelling. One is Arik Achmon, a secular liberal from a kibbutz who helped transform Israel’s failing statist economy into a thriving capitalist one. Mr. Achmon helped found the first private domestic airline in Israel. The story of how he stood down the once-powerful Histadrut trade union federation to keep his company alive illustrates the enormous changes that Israeli society has undergone in the past three decades. A second character, Avital Geva, one of the country’s leading conceptual artists who represented Israel in the 1993 Venice Biennale with a fully functioning kibbutz greenhouse, also illustrates a crucial sector of a dynamic society.
But the story’s real strength derives from Mr. Halevi’s portraits of three settler leaders: Mr. Porat, Yoel Bin-Nun and Yisrael Harel. Their movement has been central to contemporary Israel, yet little understood abroad. Settlers are mostly portrayed as two-dimensional caricatures. Their actions violate the world’s hope for a Palestinian state on the land they are taking, and their ideology does not lend itself easily to rational discourse. It is hard to know how to negotiate with someone like Mr. Bin-Nun who, as described in the book, believed that the “Torah was a blueprint for God’s relationship with a holy nation living in a holy land,” or with Mr. Porat, who saw “no contradiction between conquering the land and creating peace, because the return of the holy people to the holy land was a precondition for world peace.”
Yet Mr. Halevi, a religiously observant Jew with centrist politics by the standards of today’s Israel, brings us into these men’s lives and thoughts, taking us along on their journeys and making of them fully realized characters. We are with them not only for their internal meetings and personal struggles but also for their interactions with Israeli officials, who often claimed to reject settlements while legitimizing them. It is clear that if the government had wanted to stop them — if officials had seen the settlement project as an existential danger rather than as a way to expand narrow borders, send defiant messages and win close elections — it could have.
I would read this one.

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