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JOHN FARBER: BOOK REVIEW OF LIKE DREAMERS: THE STORY OF THE ISRAELI PARATROOPERS WHO UNITED JERUSALEM AND DIVIDED A NATION

by John Farber, July 4, 2014

LIKE DREAMERS: The story of the Israeli Paratroopers who united Jerusalem and divided a nation by Yossi Klein Halevi, 2012, Harper-Collins.

 

Reviewed by John Farber – June 2014

 

Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is a noted commentator on Israeli and Mideast issues. He is the author of several books on the Mideast and writes for several major periodicals.

 

Like Dreamers traces the lives of 4 kibbutzniks and 3 religious Zionist paratroopers who were part of the elite 55th Paratrooper Brigade that reunited the City of Jerusalem at the end of the Six-Day War in 1967. They also fought in the Sinai in 1973 (Yom Kippur War) and in Lebanon in 1982 (First Lebanon War).

 

The 538 pages book is composed of five parts and 29 chapters. Each chapter has several short subsections; generally reflecting a change from one person's story to another. The five parts are organized by time; May-June, 1967 (the Six Day War); 1967-1973; 1973-1982 (the Yom Kippur War); 1982-1992 (the Lebanon War); and 1992-2004.

 

History is not always an easy read, but Halevi presents history by following the fascinating lives of these 7 men. The content of the book is derived from over 200 extensive taped/transcribed interviews and many documents, periodicals and publications. The stories flow and are fascinating to follow.

 

The book begins with a section entitled Who's Who. It includes 35 people and gives a short 2-5 sentence introduction to them. This includes the 7 main protagonists, the paratroopers, some of whom were kibbutzniks and others religious Zionists.

 

The kibbutzniks are Arik Achmon, who later in life became a leader in Israeli aviation industry; Uri Adiv, a revolutionary, who after 1967 went on to create an anti-Israel underground; Meir Ariel, who inadvertently became an Israeli music icon; and Avital Geva who became a famous conceptual artist and eventually active in Peace Now.

 

The religious Zionists are Yoel Ben-Nun, founder of three settlements, follower of Rabbi Kook and a biblical teacher; Yisrael Harel, a leader in the Bnei Akiva Zionists youth movement and founder of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for settlements in Judea and Samaria (aka West Bank); and Hanan Porat, founder of two West Bank settlements and the first settler elected to the Knesset.

 

The book includes a short Introduction. Halevi sets the stage for his book. He describes his making of Aliyah in 1982 and what led him, as a journalist, to write the book. He notes the book is not about the paratroopers per se, but rather about “... Israel's competing utopian dreams – and how the Israel symbolized by the kibbutz became the Israel symbolized by the settlement.”  

 

Part One, The Lions' Gate, begins just days before the '67 War and covers the events leading up to and just following the historic reunification of Jerusalem. It reveals the challenges facing these men as they made their way through the narrow and harrowing streets of Jerusalem and into the Old City on June 6-7, 1967. On that June day sometime after 10:12 a.m., Motta Gur, commander of the 55th Brigade, uttered those now famous words, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”

 

It introduces the main characters and the large contingent of others who play significant roles in the lives of these paratroopers; wives, friends, rabbis, associates and others. It goes into stunning detail about their private thoughts, relationships and personal struggles. Most telling is the relationship challenges between decidedly secular Israelis from the kibbutz and their religious Zionist compatriots, a theme carried on throughout the book.  

 

Part Two, The Seventh Day, signals a period of rest and reflection. It follows these men between June 1967, after the War and through 1973. It begins on Shavuot, 1967 and describes the throngs of people working their way towards liberated Jerusalem; the first mass pilgrimage since Titus burned the Second Temple 1900 years earlier.

 

Halevi notes, “To be an Israeli in the summer of 1967 was to be a hero.”  Everyone shared in the victory. It was also the time for settlement building, sometimes with government approval and other times with the turning of a blind eye. Talk of annexation abound, but did not occur in the hope the remaining land could be used for future negotiations. Differences between secular and religious largely dissipated with the excitement and enthusiasm of the War's success.

 

Personal stories are expanded in this section; personal achievements, changes, tragedies, and betrayals. It describes the formation of various organizations; some supportive others detracting. The section ends revealing major conflict between groups within Israel.  

 

Part Three, Atonement, covers the nine years from 1973-1982. This is the period from the Yom Kippur War, through the development of settlements in the Sinai and the signing of the peace agreement with Egypt.

 

It begins describing Yom Kippur in 1973. The day began as a typical Day of Atonement.  By the afternoon, the solemnity of the day was shattered by the sounds of planes flying overhead. Chaos and trepidation seized the nation as war again was breaking out – this time in Sinai. Calls began arriving at the paratroopers’ home ordering them to report to their bases. Sirens began to wail – the fifth war in 25 years had begun. Israelis thought this one would be even shorter than the Six-Day War. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. While aware of rumblings in the Sinai, Israel was largely unprepared and scrambled to gain control. Even with ample warning of an impending confrontation, military intelligence misread the warning signs.

 

This section clearly demonstrates the profound devotion and dedication of both kibbutzniks and religious Zionists to Israel and its future, though through different perspective and tactics.

 

Part Four, Middle Age, referring the age of the paratroopers, runs from 1982 – 1992. Part Four begins with the incursion into southern Lebanon to jubilant Shites and Christians welcoming the IDF as liberators from the hated PLO.  The members of the 55th Paratroopers were now reaching middle age, and this would likely be their last war. Halevi describes, through the protagonists, Israeli ambivalence to this war as it grew longer and penetrated further and further into Lebanon.

 

The section ends just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Countries that had previously cut ties with Israel were returning, embassies were re-opening. Rabin, who lead the IDF in the Six-Day War, was elected Prime Minister an

 
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