My Coun­try, My Life: Fight­ing for Israel, Search­ing for Peace

Ehud Barak

December 18, 2018

In the sum­mer of 2000, the most dec­o­rat­ed sol­dier in Israel’s history―Ehud Barak―set him­self a chal­lenge as daunt­ing as any he had faced on the bat­tle­field: to secure a final peace with the Pales­tini­ans. He would pro­pose two states for two peo­ples, with a shared cap­i­tal in Jerusalem. He knew the risks of fail­ure. But he also knew the risks of not try­ing: let­ting slip per­haps the last chance for a gen­er­a­tion to secure gen­uine peace.

It was a moment of truth.

It was one of many in a life inter­twined, from the start, with that of Israel. Born on a kib­butz, Barak became com­man­der of Israel’s elite spe­cial forces, then army Chief of Staff, and ulti­mate­ly, Prime Minister.

My Coun­try, My Life tells the unvar­nished sto­ry of his―and his country’s―first sev­en decades; of its major suc­cess­es, but also its set­backs and mis­judg­ments. He offers can­did assess­ments of his fel­low Israeli politi­cians, of the Amer­i­can admin­is­tra­tions with which he worked, and of him­self. Draw­ing on his expe­ri­ences as a mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal leader, he sounds a pow­er­ful warn­ing: Israel is at a cross­roads, threat­ened by events beyond its bor­ders and by divi­sions with­in. The two-state solu­tion is more urgent than ever, not just for the Pales­tini­ans, but for the exis­ten­tial inter­ests of Israel itself. Only by redis­cov­er­ing the twin pil­lars on which it was built―military strength and moral purpose―can Israel thrive.

Discussion Questions

This is a won­der­ful­ly engag­ing, well writ­ten, insight­ful, and intel­li­gent mem­oir from Israel’s tenth prime min­is­ter, and one of its most dec­o­rat­ed sol­diers. In telling the sto­ry of his life as a war­rior and lat­er polit­i­cal leader of Israel, Barak also gives his account — in lucid, forth­right, and some­times chill­ing­ly vivid prose — of Israel’s nation­al story.

Raised on a sec­u­lar social­ist kib­butz in British Man­date Pales­tine, Barak was just six years old when Israel’s state­hood was pro­claimed on May 14, 1948. He was sev­en­teen years old when, in Novem­ber 1959, he enlist­ed in the IDF, and in short order was accept­ed into Israel’s most elite com­man­do unit. He would lat­er go on to com­mand the unit. His account is the first ever pub­lished of some of the unit’s most secret intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing oper­a­tions, deep with­in Syr­ia and Egypt, which informed the path to vic­to­ry in the Six-Day War. Fol­low­ing that war, Barak chose a mil­i­tary career over becom­ing a physi­cist or research sci­en­tist. His accounts of his exploits and of the many crises that occurred — hijacked air­planes, mil­i­tary actions, out­right wars — are absolute­ly riveting.

Barak’s polit­i­cal career was also far from pro­sa­ic, and his ren­der­ing of it here is both fas­ci­nat­ing and infor­ma­tive. Though deeply patri­ot­ic, Barak’s account pulls no punch­es and demon­strates a keen under­stand­ing of the fraught ten­sions and dynam­ics that run through the Israeli – Pales­tin­ian Arab dis­pute. Barak is still an avid peacenik, but there is nonethe­less much here that will engross and enlight­en those who do not share his polit­i­cal or pol­i­cy views.

Tak­en as a whole, this is a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the his­toric record, an invalu­able guide to Israel’s recent his­to­ry, an impres­sive expo­si­tion on the Israeli – Arab con­flict, a full-throat­ed call for peace, and a com­pelling read.