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Nice idea, shame about the reality
on 30 January 2014
I've read Yossi Klein Halevi's previous books, and found them well written and convincing. They were informed by personal experience and provided astute counter balancing perspectives from an individual in transition, as all good writers are constantly. And if you hear a BUT coming, here it is: perhaps the author has taken on too big a task, but his writing in this book is not as consummate as his previous works, leaving the feeling with this reader that he was in a hurry to make his point.
And what is that point? That the kibbutz movement had run its course but its ideological drives and it's pragmatic methodologies could be and were inspirations for the political antithesis of that founding movement, the settler movement. So, for as much as the author really tries to find a balance between these two movements, in the end it is clear where his money is. And it comes from the way he writes almost lyrically about the settlers, replete with biblical references and quotes. And it comes from how and via whom he chooses to conclude the book, a religious settler.
Well you might say, he had to make a choice and this was it.
Well no, if you set out to be a writer looking at two sides of as complex a coin as this one, it's better that you leave the reader with something to choose for herself/himself. Here the complexity of the real message is somewhat obscured by using the paratroopers stories as the platform. But what you're left with is the feeling that that is really incidental, and not the essential thrust of the book at all.
Having read many other works that look at the history that this book seeks to cover, particularly the Six Days War and the founding of the settler movement, I found the versions of those events covered here were missing authentic detail, again because the author was in a hurry to progress. Further, there is a sense of idolizing some of the settler leaders, and when you do that you are no longer impartial. The individual that comes to mind is the late Hanan Porat. We get an almost glowing image of this man, but it is minus the insensitivity bordering on inhumanity that Porat publicly expressed on the afternoon of the massacre by the settler doctor Baruch Goldstein, an immigrant from the USA. It was Purim, a 'liberation festival'. Goldstein had chosen that day purposely for his foul deed, and there was Porat entering Kiryat Arba, asked on live TV about what he thought of what had just happened in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, to Muslim men and boys at prayer. With ill concealed exultation Porat declared " well it's Purim today,we're happy."
So I have only one question. If the author is so clearly identified with the settler movement, spiritually and ideologically, why didn't he come clean and say so at the outset?
It's as if he's saying 'Here's a story about paratroopers and different ideologies, but, well yes this didn't go quite the way we expected, but here we are with the settlements, this is the established fact and please stop banging on about how they are a block to peace, they aren't because there's no peace to be had, and no one's going to evacuate them. Amen.' And that's not just sad, but it spells doom for the future of Israel, the Palestinians and the surrounding neighborhood.