Avi Shavit’s book “My Promised Land” received a positive review from Abraham Bernstein (“Context and consciousness,” January 17). Mr. Shavit does praise some aspects of Israel’s history. However, there are questions concerning his assessment of that history.
He speaks of his great grandfather’s arrival in Palestine in the late nineteenth century. Members of my own family also came earlier in that period. Their descriptions are part of my family memories.
These individuals were motivated with a yearning to “return” to Palestine by a culture that had never abandoned that land, that associated its history and spirituality with the existence of a Jewish people, and kept them from disappearing. The dream of a return kept the nation alive. Shavit’s great grandfather and his generation were not the first to return. There were many who came singly or in small groups in all the years following the Roman conquest.
Shavit’s statement that his great grandfather was motivated “not to see” is very unlikely. What there was to see was a parched , uncultivated, abandoned land with a small population. He and others took on the task of restoring the land with great effort and did not neglect its intellectual or economic growth. They began the advances that Ari Shavit experienced when he grew up.
In those days no one had claimed sovereignty and nationhood in Palestine. It was ruled by a series of colonial powers but not by a Palestinian population. Over time a nationalism evolved that began to manifest itself in violence instigated by some in the land as well as some beyond its borders who vied for leadership. The attitude became similar to the current situation in Iraq, where a Sunni Arab group and a Shiite group seek to eject each other rather than share the territory. This attitude, intensified after World War I and II, often focused on the Jewish population and was responsible for many Jewish deaths.
Eventually this philosophy resulted in the 1948 war. Five Arab nations attacked the new Jewish nation. War inevitably results in tragedies. Lydda’s population expulsion was one. Unfortunately Shavit makes it the centerpiece of his book, his speeches. and the television documentary that framed the incident.
He is fair to describe the choice that was given to the peoplel of Lydda – “leave or we will have to do to you what you would do to us.” They knew the Arab choice would have been slaughter – and their departure was painful but preferable. For the Jewish nation survival was at stake. Survival is still threatened. Ari Shavit should emphasize that, and the need to avoid making Israel face choices brought by war and violence.