By Lucille Marshall
Despite his fears for Israel’s future, Haaretz reporter Ari Shavit said that ultimately, he sees “seeds of hope” for the Jewish State.
Shavit is the author of the award-winning new book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, which presents the Israeli journalist’s personal insight into the country’s complicated history. Speaking to a crowd at Columbia University last week, Shavit explained that his book was born out of a desire to restore a sense of “narrative” about Israel.
“We have lost our narrative,” he said. “I had the sense that I am trying to bring back the narrative… to see the astonishing human endeavor and human story that Israel is, for better or for worse.”
Shavit acknowledged the book’s constant tension between moments of harsh pain and deep love for Israel. “Reality is brutal,” he said. “You cannot be moral while ignoring reality. Being an Israeli liberal forces you to live with this tension day in and day out.”
He went on: “Wrestle with the complex reality, but wrestle it while loving it. I so much love my country, I hurt for my country.”
Like his book, Shavit nuanced his strong professions of Zionist admiration with pronounced convictions about Israel’s flaws. “While we did not create the utopia we set out to create,” he said, “what was achieved was the most amazing phenomena of vitality against all odds.”
As an example, Shavit discussed the 1950s, a decade of enormous immigration to Israel. “Who were these people that were absorbed?” he said. “So many of them were human wrecks. So many of them had nightmares at night. So many of them had numbers tattooed to their arms.”
“And yet they did not become bitter or angry,” Shavit continued. “They did not go and do suicide bombing. Their revenge was to move on. Their revenge was to send their children to school, to build a health system, to give decent housing to people. And this, to my mind, was the great Israel miracle.”
But today, the situation in Israel is different. “I’m against occupation and I’m against settlements,” he said. “But it’s so clear that the conflict is not about occupation, and the conflict is not about settlements. And I think this has to be understood.”
“We have to be as just as possible and as moderate as possible, within the context of an ongoing conflict. We have to capture the moral high ground,” he said. “We won’t solve it all. All these issues are complicated. We have to prove that we are beginning to move in the right direction.”
At the same time, there are reasons for hope, including the 2011 social justice movement. “There was a lot of promise in the [protests],” he explained. “I do think that something deep changed in 2011. There is a potential, healthy Israeli civic society out there.”
“I fear the future,” Shavit went on. “My wish is that we will be able to go back to that amazing spirit of the 1950s. I believe we have that in our DNA.”