Life is Belief & Struggle - Ahmed Shawqi

Monday, December 29, 2014

Once again I am late to the party, but not as late as the Israeli public.

The one positive thing I can say about living in Canada in the winter is that it becomes the best excuse for staying in bed, under the covers, reading.  No one will accuse you of being a slacker for lying around the house reading when the temperature is minus anything. Of course, the sale prices of hard cover non-fiction books during the ‘silly season’, also helps. 

My reading list this year is definitely Israeli-centric. Biographies on Menachem Begin, Rav Kook, and Professor Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” (my Israeli friends have been raving about him for quite some time),  and I finally broke down and bought a of Ari Shavit’s ‘My Promised Land’. I am not far enough into the book to even begin to review it, but just in case the liberal Zionist angst goes over the top of my kumbayah meter, I also picked up The Israeli Solution by Caroline Glick.  

I know Shavit’s book came out November 2013 but my tolerance towards Zionist liberal angst was far too low when everyone else was reading it (or when I thought everyone else was reading it, well, everyone but Israelis).  I will say this, I have been marveling in how readable Shavit’s use of English was - for a non-native “Angleet”…although, given what I learned today, I suspect there was an absolute genius of an editor cleaning up Shavit’s prose. In Tablet, I found an article quoting Shavit on the little oddity of his work not yet published in ‘Hebrew’.
 I asked Shavit why he wrote the book in English if his goal is to revitalize the lackluster Israeli polity, who, last I checked, spoke Hebrew. “A weird thing about Random House,” Shavit laughed, “is that for some reason they like to publish in English.” He went on to say that the book is for now written but unedited in Hebrew and will one day be released.

That quote was from last January 2014, but a column today at Israel Hayom offered up far more plausible scenario. 

Most Israelis know nothing about Ari Shavit's bestselling book, "My Promised Land: The ‎Triumph and Tragedy of Israel." Readers of Haaretz, where he's a columnist, may have seen it ‎mentioned in short articles celebrating Shavit's stateside success. But few Israelis have heard of ‎the book, and I'm guessing that only a handful have actually read it. That is because there is no ‎Hebrew edition.‎
Shavit wrote it in English for an American Jewish audience, upon the suggestion of David ‎Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. Haaretz at first reported that a Hebrew version would appear ‎at the end of 2013, and later that it would be published in the spring of 2014 (by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir). But ‎while the book has also appeared in Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Polish, there is no ‎sign of a Hebrew edition.‎

So Israelis have no clue that Shavit has added a massacre in the city of Lydda (Lod) to the litany ‎of Israel's alleged crimes in 1948. That's why I felt privileged to take part in a December 4 panel ‎on the conquests of Lydda and Ramla in 1948, sponsored by the Galili Center for Defense ‎Studies. The chairman of the center, Uzi Arad, suggested that I explain and analyze the claims ‎made by Shavit in his book, which I had already done in English for the web magazine Mosaic. (The ‎organizers also invited Shavit, but he was off collecting accolades in south Florida.)‎

I was youngest participant on the panel, and nearly the youngest person in the lecture hall, which ‎was full of veterans of Lydda and many other battles of 1948. These people are not historians, and ‎they do not necessarily know the big picture of how politics and military operations interacted. ‎They were not commanders (the officers are all gone); they were young soldiers in 1948, at the ‎bottom of the chain of command. They have also read a lot and shared recollections over the past ‎‎60-plus years, so you cannot always tell whether what they say about some episode is first-hand or ‎derives from something they read or heard. Finally, time erodes memory, as some are quite ‎prepared to admit.‎
Still, there were some very sharp minds in the audience -- people who know more about the ‎history of the 1948 war than anyone but a handful of expert historians. They know the ‎commanders, the military units, the weaponry, the battles, the geography, the chronology -- and ‎woe unto you if you make a mistake. They won't wait for the Q&A to correct you. The war to ‎establish the State of Israel was the great adventure of their youth, and they wear it as badge of ‎honor.‎

In my opinion, there really is only one plausible explanation for why Shavit’s book has yet to be translated or offered to the Israeli public in Hebrew. There are too many veterans still alive from the War of Independence – and veterans who probably took part in the battle at Lydda (Lod).  And if these veterans are anything like the veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade – they might sue Shavit and Random House into the next century.  Cause when you are actively massaging a potential ‘new improved’ historical narrative; it helps if there are no living peers to challenge or review your effort…

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