The pivotal event is the Six Day War of 1967, but we also get glimpses of what brought the young paratroopers to Israel in the first place. Some of it was to escape the Holocaust, and some had arrived a generation earlier. The messiness of the regional boundaries stretches back beyond even 1948, a reminder that current border disputes aren't so easily solved.
Before 1967, Israel was grappling with its own questions about what its identity should be. While the answer might have veered more toward the Zionist ideal of the kibbutz, there was a significant minority of the devoutly religious who believed that the expansion- or reclamation- of Israel was essential to fulfilling God's plan for His Chosen People. But it would be a mistake to divide the country into Left/Secular/Kibbutz and Right/Religious; the young men at the core of this book embody the full spectrum of political and religious combinations in Israel. As such, the question of identity- and possibly destiny- was one that in 1967 didn't have any easy answers.
It was the threatened, promised invasion on three fronts that forced Israel to begin to answer the question. The government had worn out every diplomatic option and their allies were abandoning them. Even the United States, so frequently considered to be its sponsor/lackey, was occupied in Vietnam. Literally and figuratively, the Israelis were on their own, and it was not only possible but probable that they as a nation wouldn't survive. This powerful existential threat unified the country and it enabled it to organize quickly and move nimbly to not only defend itself but to famously conquer vast amounts of territory.
That Israel had changed was evident six years later during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Whereas Israel had desperately launched a pre-emptive war in 1967 to fight off three enemies, the government made a calculated decision to let Egypt cross their border so that Israel wouldn't look like an invader, never mind the casualties that would entail. Worse still, in spite of the warnings, their weapons and supplies were poorly stocked and the army lacked a competent tactical plan. The implied explanation is that the expanded territory made them safer but also lazier, and this was impossible for the veterans of 1967 to tolerate.
The word that was used the most in this book was "hevreh" or friend/buddy, and the characters that were most strongly connected through that friendship were Arik Achmon, the pragmatic, disillusioned kibbutznik who was for me the soul of the book, Yoel Bin-Nun, the religious idealist and settler who sought to maintain a dialogue with the Labor leader Rabin and was heartbroken when he died, and Avital Geva, the kibbutznik from Ein Shemer whose realization that the kibbutz ideal would not hold without his leadership led him to internationally acclaimed experimental art. As much as these three differed politically and religiously, they maintained a bond of friendship throughout the story that should warm the readers' hearts at every chapter and give us all hope that Israel can answer their remaining questions about identity.
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