Understanding Israel: A Review of Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers

With Israel much in the news this past year, many people find themselves in discussions about Israel’s founding and the evolution of Israeli politics since independence in 1948. One way to approach that history and to acquire a deeper understanding of today’s Israel is to read Yossi Klein Halevi’s Like Dreamers.

Like Dreamers is an example of what is called social history. Instead of reporting on the main players in the main events, Like Dreamers tells the personal stories over forty plus years of seven men who were part of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem in 1967, and in so doing exposes the reader to the divisions that emerged in Israeli society between secular versus religious Zionists, between settlers in Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) versus the residents of pre-1967 Israel, between Kibbutzniks versus metropolitans.

The March 2015 election results testify to the fact that Israel is a divided society. While the subtitle “The story of the Israeli paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation” suggests the paratroopers are to blame for the subsequent divisions, most of the seven men Halevi writes about did everything in their power to bridge the divide. The problem is that complex and deep-seated problems are not easily resolved despite the good-faith efforts of the best of men.

If nothing else, readers of Like Dreamers will come away with a greater appreciation of how great the divide is for example between those who see the world through the lens of Torah versus those who no longer believe in a god nor practice the Jewish religion. Each has a claim to how Israel should be governed and how problems such as Arab terrorism should be addressed.

Halevi brings his seven men to life by following their personal lives, their careers, their wishes and their fears. Occasionally one might wish he’d have left out some small personal item, but on the whole he gives very complete pictures of each man’s life treating even the most extreme with empathy. His smooth writing style is ideal for a book of this length and it doesn’t require any specialized knowledge or background.

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