A recurring theme in the work, My Promised Land by Ari Shavit, is the identity of Jews and the rise of Zionism in the establishment of Israel. There are several key themes to analyze when discussing the establishment of a state home to one group of people, with several minorities of immigrants from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Shavit notes, “Only a few years ago did it suddenly dawn on me that my existential fear regarding my nation’s future and my moral outrage regarding my nation’s occupation policy are not unconnected. On the one hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is occupying another people. On the other hand, Israel is the only nation in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli condition unique. Intimidation and occupation have become the two pillars of our condition.”
When Shavit continuously addresses Israel in such a light, his word choice is often subjective in viewing Israel as “threatened.” Many others would consider Israel to be the threat, in the Israeli persistent desire for independence as an established Jewish and democratic state. However, Shavit also juxtaposes the notion of Israel’s complicated occupation with external intimidation, seemingly highlighting two polar extremes and making the case more objective as a whole.
Throughout the course of the text, Shavit also analyzes the perspective of time, in whom the land belonged to over hundreds of years in the past, present day and in the decades to come. To this day, the understanding of who may consider Israel home is complexly full of bias. More than just the notion of who the land of Israel belongs to, Shavit proposes the emotions that come with such a holy land. He opposes time in Israel as peaceful or violent. He opposes a historical perspective on Israel as quiet versus loud. Not only that, but Shavit also discusses in depth the foundations of Israel, and struggles with himself in identifying and defining exactly the roots of this nation. Who did Israel actually belong to? When does the story begin? How far back should we look to identify the foundations of the Jewish state?
His perception of Israel as a whole is not judgmental. Rather, it is difficult to avoid bias when a place is so closely attached to one’s identity and personal roots. At times, there is subjectivity in his work, but at the same time, there is objectivity. An important question throughout my stay in Israel is whether or not there is a balanced perception of Israel. When really, we should learn to embrace the many data points of bias. As we understand bias from several verticals, it is essential to embrace the multiple stories within Israel. There is no one foundation, no one emotion and no one community. With that, Shavit truly has added a bright light to all the complexities of Israel, especially in his wonderful description of Israel as a land not of conflict, but of distinctiveness: “The Jewish state does not resemble any other nation. What this nation has to offer is not security or well-being or peace of mind. What it has to offer is the intensity of life on the edge. The adrenaline rush of living dangerously, living lustfully, living to the extreme. If a Vesuvius-like volcano were to erupt tonight and end our Pompeii, this is what it will petrify: a living people. People that have come from death and were surrounded by death but who nevertheless put up a spectacular spectacle of life. People who danced the dance of life to the very end.”