the story of israel

Ea95b13a-88f0-4414-a4ee-cdac5e719ddcSimon Schama at The Financial Times:

To those of us Jews whose identity and personal history are locked together with the fate of Israel, much of what Shavit unsparingly records makes bitterly painful reading, which is precisely why his book is not just enthralling, but morally dignified. The insomnia mission – keeping us up at night worrying open the scars that are more easily left untroubled – has been the historian’s obligation ever since Thucydides did a number on Athenian hubris. Our professional honour is preserved by such cold comforts, rather than the toasty pleasures of national self-congratulation. And it is just because Shavit’s pages are so full of unresolved conflicts, personal anguish and humane compassion for both suffering peoples, along with a brilliant gift for capturing the high voltage creative exuberance of an Israel living on the edge, that his book is, by some light years, the best thing to have been written on the subject.

Beginning with its title, which is at the same time spring-loaded with irony yet also innocent of it, Shavit has the rare gift of dual empathy. As you would expect, he conveys the anguish of Jews in the late 1930s and during the war, when they realised they had been abandoned by the rest of the world. That anguish reached its most acute moment in 1942, when at the same time, the killing centres opened for business in Poland and Rommel’s Afrika Korps stood poised to break through to Egypt and Palestine. But at no point does he ever look away from the magnitude of the Palestinian catastrophe. In fact, he seems all the more of an Israeli for being able to think and feel like a Palestinian.

more here.