10 August, 2022


Sri Lanka And Ari Shavit’s ‘My Promised Land: The Triumph And Tragedy Of Israel’

By Charles Sarvan

Dr. Charles Sarvan

Dr. Charles Sarvan

“Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place” (Isaiah 5:8)

The Israel Palestine conflict is many decades old and seems intractable. It’s a constant haemorrhage with one side losing far more “blood” (both literally and figuratively) than the other. Periodically, violence peaks and it’s headline news, such as during the recent ‘incursion’ into Gaza when hundreds of Palestinian civilians, children and women included, were killed. The landscape of destroyed houses and buildings in Gaza was like that of several other cities we have seen destroyed thanks to ‘progress’ and modern warfare’s horrific capacity to destroy and ravage. Rabbi Michael Lerner lamented (4 August 2014), Israel has broken my heart: I’m a rabbi in mourning for a Judaism being murdered by Israel. My heart is broken as I witness the suffering of the Palestinian people and the indifference of Israelis ( see )

(For Sri Lankans to appreciate the force of this statement, they must imagine: “Sri Lanka has broken my heart. I’m a Buddhist monk in mourning for a Buddhism being murdered by Sri Lanka”.) It’s in this context that I draw attention to the above work, a best seller described as one of the most important books about Zionism. The author, born in 1957, once a member of an elite Israeli parachute unit; one who did guard-duty over Palestinian prisoners, is a peace-activist and a leading Israeli journalist.

085The Second World War ended in 1945, and the State of Israel was founded in 1948 – the same year in which Sri Lanka was granted independence. No doubt, the ‘Shoah’ (the Holocaust) had much to do with the latter event but Shavit reminds us that ‘Aliyah’ (return) had started more than a century earlier because of frequent and vicious pogroms in East Europe against the Jews. (George Eliot’s novel of 1876, ‘Daniel Deronda’, comes to mind.) By 1936, there were 350,000 Jews in Palestine (p. 74). Modern-day economic-refugees flee to a West that is developed, but these early Jewish settlers found themselves in a poor underdeveloped land, facing a perilous present and an uncertain future. However, if circumstances were extraordinary, they brought with them extraordinary intelligence and resolve. I quote an example of settlers handling “cursed swamps” (p. 39): “They hammer pegs and tie ropes along which the major canals and the minor canals will be dug. The heat is unbearable but the mosquitoes are worse. The stench of the swamp is overpowering. The tall reeds are infested with snakes. Yet the canals must be dug.” (The use of the present tense; the detailed and imaginative re-creation of setting, atmosphere, character, thought, mood and action are characteristic of Shavit’s style.) Elsewhere we read of families who struggled to take root but were “defeated by the harsh conditions, the shortage of water, and the high infant mortality rate” (p.101). But aided by the Jewish diaspora, many of whom came over with their knowledge and skills, the Jews persevered and, on many counts, the State of Israel is undoubtedly a “triumph”, a triumph such that, in the words from the narrative poem ‘Horatius’ by Lord Macaulay (1800-1859), “even the ranks of Tuscany / Could scarce forbear to cheer”. Secular Zionism at one stage was humane, moderate and balanced (p. 66), and to some Jews Zionism was a humanist dream attracting idealists and romantics.

By way of a brief digression on idealism, one thinks of the Russian Revolution and of those who dreamt of a world without exploitation, one where everyone would be equal, and equally free. (Emma Goldman quickly perceived the reality beneath the self-proclaiming rhetoric: see her memoir, ‘My Disillusionment in Russia’, 1923.) So it was also with the Tamil Tiger movement in its incipient, heady, stage. Such revolutions betray aims and ideals, and devour the best of their own: one thinks, for example, of Dr Rajini Thiranagama, (nee Rajasingham) 1954 – 1989.

Contrary to what some religions claim, suffering does not ennoble. History repeatedly shows it’s quite the contrary. Auden: “I and the public know / What all schoolchildren learn,/ Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return.” For centuries, Christians persecuted the Jews as the “killers of Christ”, driving them to seek a home in Palestine (early Zionism was a movement of an “orphaned” folk), in turn driving the Palestinians into exile and refugee camps, and oppressing those who remained. Chapter 5 on the Lydda Valley massacre of Palestinians is a powerful and disturbing indictment. We say matter-of-fact, with resigned acceptance, “Well, horrible things happen in war”. C’est la guerre. It’s as if war itself is guilty – not the human beings who wage war and make “horrible things” happen. War means death and destruction, and those who engage in it, soldiers and civilians alike, become calloused. Some derive almost a sexual pleasure in bullying, torturing and killing (p. 113). But it is the treatment of enemy women, “young and old”, that shows how “disgraced” one has become (p. 129). The jute sacks of the soldiers fill up with looted necklaces and earrings (ibid). Rather than treat the injured of the ‘other’, a medical doctor cheerfully wishes they were all, all dead (p. 232). Torture is an inevitable concomitant of war: “Now the screams grow weaker. They change to sobbing, wailing” (p. 232). In lines describing such conduct, all humanity stands indicted. Jewish Shavit does not hesitate to use, provocative and challenging, the phrase “Jewish terrorists”. (Again, it’s as if a Sinhalese were to speak of “Sinhalese terrorists”.)

The strange nature of evil is that it exists without evil individuals: “Evil without evildoers” (p. 235). The majority who vote for right-wing individuals and parties are not evil; those in power do not personally torture; army officers are not guilty because they are carrying out the wishes of a legitimate, elected, government; prison staff are not guilty because they are only doing their duty. No one is guilty and yet evil exists.  Evil is always worse than the sum total of its different parts (ibid). The evil do not see themselves as those who make the world less beautiful and more sad, but as patriotic and righteous.

The word “righteous” above leads to religion: ironically, religion can create and legitimise evil. For example, ethics and morality teach us not to misappropriate the land of others but religion can justify it as a sacred duty. In China thousands of years ago the Zhou saw themselves as a chosen people. In conquering and ruling the Shang, they saw themselves as carrying out the wishes of the gods: it was ‘the mandate of heaven’. Religion can be a tool and an active agent of politics: combining religion with politics inevitably “breeds insanity” (p. 219). The following by a right-wing Israeli is quoted on Page 217: European and American values must be replaced. “We must leave democracy behind and go back to the source.” We must blow up foreign sacred sites, and so “break through to the heavens. It would pave the way to sanctity […] It would be a purge that would end the old corrupt era and usher in a new pure one”. It all sounds dreadfully familiar to me; at once both alarming and depressing.

Shavit argues that state sponsored or connived at settlement of the land and houses of others is immoral and inhumane. I was born there, tells an evicted Palestinian to the author, so was my father “and his grandfather and his grandfather’s grandfather” (p. 318). Names of places are changed, “ethnicised”; official street-signs appear in Hebrew and in a foreign language (English) but not in the language spoken by many who live there (Arabic). Their existence and that of their language are denied. (In Sri Lanka, the singing of the national anthem in Tamil has been banned, not by law but by executive fiat.) It is ‘racist’, humiliating and cruel. Triumphant, drunk with power, both state and people ride roughshod over the ‘other’. Most don’t stop to see themselves. If they did, they would have to see themselves quite differently. It’s best not to see. The change in attitude, the lack of conscience and compassion is not only of the leadership (p. 75) but of the people as a whole. Resisting subordination and expropriation, internationally without real friends, the desperate Palestinians turn to violence. But Jewish injury and death hardens Jewish hearts within and outside Israel, and unleashes awful retaliatory violence. The international community is alienated, and distances itself in moral distaste. The original cause is forgotten, and there’s only impatience, anger and hate. These latter are essential because unless one has disregard, one cannot discriminate. One cannot admit the full and equal humanity of the other and still subordinate and ill-treat. Contempt, disregard and denial are the essential first-step. The abnormal (violence and oppression, injustice and inhumanity) becomes normal, is accepted and lived with.

Despite vehement rhetoric about Moslem brotherhood; despite wealth and the influence that it brings, Arab nations have not lifted a finger to help their “Palestinian brothers and sisters” (p. 160). Having been in the Gulf at the time, I recall that Saddam Hussein cynically declared he would liberate Jerusalem from the Jews – and marched into Arab Kuwait. Unlike the ‘Shoah’, the Palestinian ‘Nabka’ goes on and on, ignored by the outside world, including other Moslems. At present, there’s no end in sight.

Secular left-wing Jews are not at ease with Israel (p. xiii); indeed, “enlightened Jews” are ashamed (p. 221) of their country’s values, aims and methods. They ask: Is this the “promise” of the Promised Land?   There was another road, one that would have led to an equitable sharing and to harmony: as long ago as the 1920s, there was a Jewish Peace Alliance (p. 240). The author ponders why this road was not taken. Similarly, some Sri Lankans wonder why the Left movements in the 1940s and 50s, with their degree of mass support and trade-union backing, failed. (On failure, see Sarvan, ‘Facing Failure’, Colombo Telegraph, 08 August 2014.) As Nelson Mandela observes in his autobiography, the dark forces of vertical division (‘race’, religion, language) are much more emotive and powerful than the horizontal line of class. And so we come back to the book’s sub-title, ‘Triumph and Tragedy’. The tragedy is in how the triumph was won, and in how that triumph is now being used. Military victory has been won at the cost of the defeat of the ethical, the decent and the humane. To apply in a wider political sense words from Robert Frost’s famous poem, ‘The road not taken’, two roads diverged, and the choice then made now makes “all the difference”.

Promised Land’ is fully aware that behind broad Historical developments there are individual human beings, and the book imaginatively narrates many a story. The work is thoroughly researched: the author has consulted original documents, and conducted interviews with several actors, not excluding Palestinians. That a Jew living in the Jewish state should publish such a work is admirable and (as in Sri Lanka) gives ground for hope. As I have written elsewhere, some of the most cogent criticisms of Israel that I have read have been by persons of Jewish origin.

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  • 7

    Although I fail to see any parallels. For example pogroms against the Jews were pure racial hatred that chased Jews from Europe.

    In Ceylon the riots against Tamils were planned and executed by ITAK and later by its militant offshoot, the LTTE.

    The LTTE started with an engineed exodus in 83. It ended with another engineered exodus in 09. Both exodus planned executed by Tamils against Tamils.

    Sinhala people have no time or need to hate Tamils isn’t there? Liberal and easy minded Sinhala people has always been the Achilles’ heel of the Tamil Nazi. That is why the Tamil exodus had to be engineed to Balakanise Ceylon.

    Despite decades of Tamil Nazi efforts to isolate Tamils, most Tamils still work, live and crap in the midst of Sinhala people isn’t it?

    So honestly, I just cannot see any parallels.

    • 8


      You are hearing voices in your head. Your health is deteriorating. Please seek medical help.

      How long you’ve been living your bunker like VP?

    • 4

      This imbecile may be thinking that he were to inculcate anti Tamil statements, he/she will succeed in indoctrinating the Sinhala fools!

    • 4

      Dr. Charles Sarvan

      “The Israel – Palestine conflict is many decades old and seems intractable. It’s a constant haemorrhage with one side losing far more “blood” (both literally and figuratively) than the other. Periodically, violence peaks and it’s headline news, such as during the recent ‘incursion’ into Gaza when hundreds of Palestinian civilians, children and women included, were killed. “

      These are symptoms of the Christian intolerance of the Jewish people.

      1. First the Jewish Rabbai and Zealot Jesus of Galilee, who wanted the Romans who were occupying his land to leave, was re-branded as Jesus of Nazareth, and with the Paul on the way to Damascus, and the New Testament Writers, a religion was created. ( Reference ; The Zealot by Reza Aslan)

      2. Antisemitism was an invention of the Christian Church.it was christian intolerance, despite their their claims, to a Jew who was turned into a God, and Claoimed had to die for their sins, and in turn went and persecuted the Jews for killing on eof their own, a Jew… Christianity is all screwed up..lik ethe many other religions..No Better..

      The Jews claim the Land was given to them by God, but people were living there Canaanites.. So the Jews are paras , Paradeshis on Palestine- Israel..There was Cannon before Palestine and Palestine Before Israel etc..

      Why should the Palestinians pay for the problem created by others..

      Read Sykes-Picot Agreement.. of 1915….

      “The Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France,[1] with the assent of Russia, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. “




      Ancient world
      The first clear examples of anti-Jewish sentiment can be traced back to Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.[37] Alexandria was home to the largest Jewish diaspora community in the world at the time and the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was produced there. Manetho, an Egyptian priest and historian of that era, wrote scathingly of the Jews. His themes are repeated in the works of Chaeremon, Lysimachus, Poseidonius, Apollonius Molon, and in Apion and Tacitus.[82] Agatharchides of Cnidus ridiculed the practices of the Jews and the “absurdity of their Law”, making a mocking reference to how Ptolemy Lagus was able to invade Jerusalem in 320 BCE because its inhabitants were observing the Shabbat.[82] One of the earliest anti-Jewish edicts, promulgated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in about 170–167 BCE, sparked a revolt of the Maccabees in Judea.

      In view of Manetho’s anti-Jewish writings, antisemitism may have originated in Egypt and been spread by “the Greek retelling of Ancient Egyptian prejudices”.[83] The ancient Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria describes an attack on Jews in Alexandria in 38 CE in which thousands of Jews died.[84][85] The violence in Alexandria may have been caused by the Jews being portrayed as misanthropes.[86] Tcherikover argues that the reason for hatred of Jews in the Hellenistic period was their separateness in the Greek cities, the poleis.[87] Bohak has argued, however, that early animosity against the Jews cannot be regarded as being anti-Judaic or antisemitic unless it arose from attitudes that were held against the Jews alone, and that many Greeks showed animosity toward any group they regarded as barbarians.[88] Statements exhibiting prejudice against Jews and their religion can be found in the works of many pagan Greek and Roman writers.[89] Edward Flannery writes that it was the Jews’ refusal to accept Greek religious and social standards that marked them out. Hecataetus of Abdera, a Greek historian of the early third century BCE, wrote that Moses “in remembrance of the exile of his people, instituted for them a misanthropic and inhospitable way of life.” Manetho, an Egyptian historian, wrote that the Jews were expelled Egyptian lepers who had been taught by Moses “not to adore the gods.” Edward Flannery describes antisemitism in ancient times as essentially “cultural, taking the shape of a national xenophobia played out in political settings.”[37]

      There are examples of Hellenistic rulers desecrating the Temple and banning Jewish religious practices, such as circumcision, Shabbat observance, study of Jewish religious books, etc. Examples may also be found in anti-Jewish riots in Alexandria in the 3rd century BCE.

      The Jewish diaspora on the Nile island Elephantine, which was founded by mercenaries, experienced the destruction of its temple in 410 BCE.[90]

      Relationships between the Jewish people and the occupying Roman Empire were at times antagonistic and resulted in several rebellions. According to Suetonius, the emperor Tiberius expelled from Rome Jews who had gone to live there. The 18th-century English historian Edward Gibbon identified a more tolerant period in Roman-Jewish relations beginning in about 160 CE.[37] However, when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the state’s attitude towards the Jews gradually worsened.

      James Carroll asserted: “Jews accounted for 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire. By that ratio, if other factors such as pogroms and conversions had not intervened, there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of something like 13 million.”[91][92]

  • 6

    Hello Veddah,

    Your leaders have always treated you like cattle chasing from one corner to another. Its easy because in your culture there next to no independent thought happening.

    It probably has to do with years of caste conditioning. In your hierarchical rigid caste structure you operate like a herd taking orders from above.

    I know it must be not politically correct to be so blunt. Although if I don’t point it out Tamils will continue to operate like bulls in china shops isnt it? Worse of all poor Sri Lankans have to bear the Tamil nuisance and burden,

    • 7


      “Your leaders have always treated you like cattle chasing from one corner to another.”

      Its lot of fun you should try it yourself and good for your health.

      “Its easy because in your culture there next to no independent thought happening.”

      We do have thoughtful Elders among our people however I am yet see members of my people hearing voices in their head.

      “I know it must be not politically correct to be so blunt. Although if I don’t point it out Tamils will continue to operate like bulls in china shops isnt it?”

      You are going to end up like a bull in the china shop if you don’t stop hearing voices in your head.

      “Worse of all poor Sri Lankans have to bear the Tamil nuisance and burden,”

      I empathize with your family.

      If you get enough sunlight you may be able to cure your illness therefore you should spend more time outside your bunker.

  • 3

    An interesting article. What cannot be contested is that there are far more Natanyahoos than Shavits in Israel, yet, that some human values do remain should make one hopeful.
    The pogroms against the Judaics did not start in Europe. The first was described as the ‘Exodus’ from Egypt and it is around this that the myth of the promised land is weaved. One had to be a Christian or a Muslim to have bought into the myth, though the Zionists who mostly claimed to be atheists were quick to pounce on the idea to create Israel and lay claim to land belonging to others. The very existence of the villages and monuments named after gods El, Yerah(Sin, Nanna) from among the pantheon who were worshipped in the area by Canaanites/Philistines long before Judaics picked one as their very own is proof enough.
    It is also unclear as to why the author attempts to link evil to the political right, when the evil deeds of the left is no less vulgar and of equal magnitude.

    • 3


      “Zionists who mostly claimed to be atheists were quick to pounce on the idea to create Israel and lay claim to land belonging to others.”

      This does ring a bell.

      The Sinhala/Buddhists who mostly claimed to be followers of Buddha (who was against the idea of god) were quick to pounce on the idea to create Sri Lanka and lay claim to land belonging to others.

      Sinhala/Buddhists are another chosen people.

      • 0

        Native Vedda

        “Sinhala/Buddhists are another chosen people.”

        From South India, just like the Tamils. ( Check the DNA)Chosen people by the Para-Monk Mahanama of Mahawansa Notoriety, with his lies and imaginations copied from Dipawansa…and other lies and myths..

  • 1

    SL has to follow Israel.

    We Tamils have Tamil Nadu.

    Muslims have Arabia.

    Singhalams have SL.

    Singhalams need their own Thalaivar.

    • 1


      “We Tamils have Tamil Nadu.”

      I hate to agree.

      Singhalams have SL.

      No, Singhalams have Bihar and Aryan myth pool.

      “Singhalams need their own Thalaivar.”

      Good idea, so that Sinhalams too can end up in Mullivaaikkal.

      By the way by any chance you are related to Tamodaya?

  • 3

    “So it was also with the Tamil Tiger movement in its incipient, heady, stage. Such revolutions betray aims and ideals, and devour the best of their own: one thinks, for example, of Dr Rajini Thiranagama, (nee Rajasingham) 1954 – 1989”.

    Charles, I disagree that the Tamil Tiger movement was idealistic in its incipient stage.

    Though they paid lip service to Marxism and had crossed Russian AK47s on their flag, the LTTE had very different roots and development from the Russian revolution. When Prabakaran shot the popular Tamil mayor of Jaffna in 1975, The Tamil Tigers were a small gang, armed with a couple of guns, which they also used to rob the local bank not long after. They were common criminals, not revolutionaries. Rival gangs were a key target along with moderate Tamil politicians and Tamil policemen, in the early days of the LTTE.

    When they did gain territory to rule in the north and east, far from from liberating the masses from oppression they established a military dictatorship that engineered a suicide cult in the interests of its own preservation. Parents lived in fear that their children would be abducted to fight for the Tigers. Children were militarized and brainwashed into a militaristic cult devoted to Prabakaran through the “Voice of Tigers” station. Hundreds were forced to kill and be killed. In the rest of the island people lived in constant fear of bombs on buses and trains. When they ran what their supporters were calling a “de-facto state” the LTTE systematically ignored the needs of the Tamil people under their governance, focusing on the military needs of the Tigers. There was precious little idealism in the Tamil Tiger movement. Ever.

  • 0

    The review encourages thought. There’s much I gained from reading it. I’m sure others will too if they are willing to be open-minded. Being inflexible will only retard.

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