‘For as long as I can remember, I remembe rfear. Existential fear. The Israel I grew up in … was energetic, exuberant, and hopeful. But I always felt that beyond the well-to-do houses and upper-middle-class lawns of my hometown lay a dark ocean.’
So begins Ari Shavit’s recent autobiographical discourse on the state of Israel. The tension that Shavit perceives in Israel’s fortunes – between continual occupation and constant existential threat – is also evident in my own book, Israel Since the Six-Day War, in which I try to put across an understanding of the travails of Israeli men and women as they pass through periods of joy sharply marred by periods of sorrow.
The history of the state of Israel is complex and multifaceted, and we should not shy away from that fact, as many other authors have done. On the one hand there are a multitude of books that depict Israel as the epitome of evil. In this category writers liken Israel to a rapacious colonial state callously displacing a hapless innocent indigenous population and, in its lust for land, Israel wilfully encroaches on its neighbours’ territory. Some (even from within Israel) go as far as to suggest that Israel is an Apartheid state with Nazi tendencies.
On the other hand there are books written by pro-Israel authors that paint a glowing and complimentary picture of Israel suggesting that it is virtually free from any blemishes and has always conducted its internal and external affairs in an exemplary manner.
In my book I have attempted to describe Israel as it actually is, that is, like any other Western democracy, Israel has both positive and negative attributes, as well as a diverse spectrum of political perspectives. While the country’s defects and shortcomings are freely and even liberally highlighted, its positive aspects are in no way overlooked. What follows, I hope, is a judicious and balanced account of all the major events in Israel in the time period considered. Another mistake many make is to assume that the history of Israel is the history merely of conflicts, atrocities (on both sides) and continued international tensions.
Like any other democracy, Israel has experienced numerous social, economic, and cultural achievements and challenges. In particular, I delve into some of the demographic issues that Israelis have faced since the 1980s, with the influx of Ethopian and Russian immigrants, as well as the ballooning Ultra-Orthodox population.
For readers seeking to acquire an understanding of the real Israel without being bombarded by any underlying tendentiousness, my book would fit the bill.
Leslie was Associate Professor at Macquarie University in Sydney until his recent retirement and has written an acclaimed trilogy of books on the history of the State of Israel, the concluding part, Israel Since the Six-Day War: Tears of Joy, Tears of Sorrow, published last week by Polity Press