Earlier this week, Eric Gartman posited how and why history can and should be both informational and interesting. He is blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.
In the summer of 1997 I had the good fortune to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. One day several students rushed out between classes, spreading the news that a terror bombing had hit the city. Sixteen people were killed and a hundred wounded in two suicide bomb attacks at Mahane Yehuda, a popular fruit and vegetable market. I was horrified. But to my surprise, our teachers took the news in stride, saying in effect, Life must go on. We returned to our studies.
A couple days later I rode the bus past Mahane Yehuda. The market had been cleared of debris and was packed once again. I expressed my surprise to a young Israeli woman sitting next to me. “This is how it needs to be,” she told me. “Life needs to go on, we have to prove to the terrorists that they can’t beat us.” I was impressed by her fortitude. A few minutes later I got off at Jerusalem's central bus station. Another bus pulled up and its passengers disembarked. With the two busses emptied, the station platform was densely packed. I suddenly realized that it would be the perfect opportunity for a suicide bomber to attack. If there were two suicide attacks like those at the fruit market, the damage would be enormous. I panicked, realizing that my life might be in jeopardy. When I regained my composure, it occurred to me that this was the fear that Israelis lived with every day. It was a lesson I never forgot. I never experienced fear like that in America, even after the September 11th attacks.
Unfortunately, this is hardly an unusual story. It is a mere microcosm for what life is like for Israelis. They have to contend with fear and violence on a daily basis. Yet they survive. Indeed, at its heart, the story of Israel is a story of survival. Throughout its first decades of existence, the Jewish state faced numerous attempts at its destruction. The wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973 all brought Israel to the brink of annihilation. Surrounded by more numerous Arab states, Israel’s survival seemed very unlikely to contemporary observers during these decades. Yet the Jewish state survived and prospered.
How it survived in the face of steep odds is the topic of my new book, Return to Zion. It is a story that needs to be told, for the courage and perseverance of those pioneers is a tale for the ages. And while there is no lack of books on Israel’s history, most of those books do not give any idea of what it was like for the people who experienced these momentous events. Have you ever wondered how the first settlers from Europe coped with their strange new environment? Or how it felt to witness the liberation of Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall? What was it like to be involved in Israel’s numerous wars?
These were the questions I wanted to know about. And since I could find no books addressing these issues, I collected eyewitness accounts of all the major events in the history of modern Israel in order to give the reader a sense of what it was like to live through those momentous times. I also wanted to explain that history in easy non-academic language. It is my hope through my book young people and non-specialists will learn the history of Israel’s survival in an engaging and entertaining manner and gain a new appreciation for all that they endured, and continue to endure to this day.
Eric Gartman is an intelligence analyst for the United States Department of Defense who has lived and studied in Israel and traveled extensively throughout the Middle East.
- Essays on Israel
- Mike Kelly: From 9/11 to Jaffa Road
- David Harris-Gershon: How My Memoir Convinced the NY Post to Advocate for Israel's Destruction