Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review; Walking Israel

After much personal anticipation, I am finally able to write the first Book Review for Supporting Our Israel. I finished the book about a week ago and just haven't had time to sit and actually write. So here is is:

Well-written, interesting piece of drek.

Should I expand further? Fine.

Martin Fletcher, the former Middle East correspondent for NBC, wrote Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation. Off the bat, he works for NBC, a left leaning typical media outlet in America, so it is simple to see that he already would see the Israelis as a people of less than sterling qualities. Secondly, he is British. The UK is notoriously known for networks and newscasts that are pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist. But I digress, this isn't about him, but his book. But it is indicative of his point of view.

Fletcher took it upon himself to walk the coast of Israel from Rosh haNikra to Gaza. The premise is incredible. Who wouldn't want to walk such a journey? Along this walk, he stopped at many places, speaking with the locals and checking out the scenery. His choice of characters to meet however, are not even close to a cross-section of what Israel and its people and culture are about. Out of the Israeli's he met, he interviewed a long long beach bum and hippy, who's house and land are sitting on what used to be an Arab family's before 1948. To contrast meeting this extremely hedonistic man, he met a conservative and "broken" Arab man whose family used to own this land. He doesn't hold the current owner responsible for stealing his land, but the government. (This is a common theme in this book, the Government is the bad guy, not the Jordanian ruled Arabs who attacked after the formation of the State of Israel in 1948.)

He eventually reached Acco/Acre, an ancient city close to the North of Israel whose history is so sordid and destructive, it would be an incredible movie. It is a mixture of Jews and Arabs, Christians and Atheists. In this city, his interaction with a major section of the population is glaringly missing. He spoke to everyone but a Jew. This skewed history becomes very apparent just flipping through this particular chapter.

To his credit, however, the descriptions of the city itself and the history that is actually presented paints a particularly delightful picture of this historic city. If I knew nothing of Israel and I read this book, it would actually make me want to visit, albeit with an armed guard.

I became a bit depressed when he hit Tel Aviv. His attempt to regain the Tel Aviv of his youth by trying to pick up women in discotheques is particularly disturbing. He showed bars and dance clubs operating on the Sabbath. (Please note: I do not and cannot overlook the blatant disregard for Sabbath in Israel. Israel is a Jewish state and because of the Jewish law should be well respected there. That being said, I cannot and will not force people to do anything against their will, but such a disrespect is just intolerable.) Fletcher's first interaction with an observant Jew is here in Tel Aviv with a Chabad-Lubavitch man who is sitting on a corner in Tel Aviv, praising G-d and giving out l'Chaims. With all due respect, this is not a portrayal of Judaism that I would like to give out to the crowd reading this book, specifically because this is his only interaction with Orthodoxy in the book.

His "search" for the soul of the nation brought him to many places off of the coast as well. He visited many Kibbutzim. He met with leaders of the individual ones as well as a man who is trying to make the old Socialist models more Capitalist. He did mention why. He mentioned that there was tremendous waste and a lack of organization and basically no money coming in. How can a community, like a Kibbutz, provide everything for its constituents and expect things to run without money? A new Kibbutz model was presented. It basically turned dysfunctional Kibbutzim into functioning, profitable, self-sustaining communities. Fletcher had some compassion for his struggle to keep the ideal afloat any way possible. His heart, however, sat with the old school Kibbutzniks, who even after fleeing Russia, still had pictures of Stalin in their dining halls.

It seems that the only searching he did was to actually search for the compassion of the Israelis towards the Palestinian people. Eventually, he reached Ashkelon. While he interacted with the local community, he felt is dull and boring. Yet, his memory returned to a wartime scenario, Operation Cast Lead. His description of the Israeli community, under fire, with people whose lives are in ruins because of terrorist activity is heart-breaking. Yet, his thoughts go to a former colleague who lives in Gaza, who is essentially under house arrest because some thug Palestinians are out to kill him, come to his mind. This "poor man" lives in fear of the PA and actually welcomes Israel to come in and save him. When he was in Israel, he was prosperous and had a job. When the PA took over, he was confined and become despondent. Why wasn't this type of situation discussed? Israel, for as "bad" as it is, gave prosperity to the Arab people. Allowed them to pray and work and go about their lives as full citizens with full rights. In the PA, they live in fear and hunger.

When he hit his moments of lucidity, it became an interesting book. He had a discussion with a few soldiers; friends of his son. he had seen these boys grow up and now they were fighters in the army. However, his portrayal of these men lacks a soulful look at why they are actually conscripted into the army in the first place. It lacks an overall perspective of why. He merely looks at the situation individually. One boy lies and pretends to become mentally affected and is discharged from the army and another, both friends, is on the road to become an officer. Fletcher's interest in why they are fighting is non-existent. As long as he can find some "personal" connection with the immediate situation.

There was one part of the book I found hopeful and amazing. Fletcher met a man named Moshe Rothman, a holocaust survivor, a fighter for the land of Israel and aging Patriarch of a family. His description of this Israeli, full of life, dancing and living his life to the fullest every day, is the type of Israeli that I personally have become accustomed to. Yet, his mental distance is prevalent. Seeing the horrors of the Holocaust, including losing his family, seeing the fighting and living under terrorist fears, have taken its toll on this larger than life man. This was truly inspirational and I enjoyed this section immensely.

As I said previously, the premise for this book was outstanding. Who wouldn't want to travel and experience any part of Israel? Unfortunately, I think Mr. Fletcher found the soul of a leftist war correspondent, not truly listening to Israel and its cries and its successes.

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