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Son of the Cypresses: Memories, Reflections, and Regrets from a Political Life

Meron Benvenisti
Translated by Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta
in Consultation with Michael Kaufman-Lacusta
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 262
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp8jf
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  • Book Info
    Son of the Cypresses
    Book Description:

    "Now that I am seventy years of age, it is my prerogative to offer a summing up," says Meron Benvenisti, internationally known author and columnist, Jerusalem native, and scion of Israel's founders. Born in Palestine in 1934 to a Sephardic father and an Ashkenazi mother, Benvenisti has enjoyed an unusual vantage point from which to consider his homeland's conflicts and controversies. Throughout his long and provocative career as a scholar, an elected official, and a respected journalist, he has remained intimately involved with Israel's social and political development. Part memoir and part political polemic,Son of the Cypressesthreads Benvenisti's own story through the story of Israel. The result is a vivid, sharply drawn eyewitness account of pre-state Jerusalem and Israel's early years. He memorably sets the scene by recalling his father's emotional journey from Jewish Salonika in 1913 to Palestine, with all its attendant euphoria and frustration, and his father's pioneer dedication to inculcating Israeli youth with a "native's" attachment to the homeland. In describing the colorful and lively Jerusalem in which he grew up, Benvenisti recalls the many challenges faced by new Jewish immigrants, who found themselves not only in conflict with the Arab population but also with each other as Sephardim and Ashkenazim. He revisits his own public disagreements with both Zionists and Palestinians and shares indelible memories such as his boyhood experiences of the 1948 War. In remembering his life as an Israeli sabra, Benvenisti offers a vivid record of the historical roots of the conflict that persists today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93001-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. CHAPTER 1 A Founding Father
    (pp. 1-31)

    I had long been grappling with the question of where to begin my story. Before even thinking of the story itself, I had pondered where the opening scene should be set. This initial staking out of the narrative territory was important to me, because it would ground events and thoughts in concrete reality. I could begin at a beginning, at my beginning or at my parents’ beginnings: in Jerusalem, or in Salonika and Suwalk; in Eretz Israel (Hebrew for “the Land of Israel”), or in the Balkans and the “Pale of Settlement”—but for some reason I was especially drawn...

  4. CHAPTER 2 Delayed Filial Rebellion
    (pp. 32-56)

    WhenSacred Landscapewas published in early 2000, I indeed felt so distant and cut off from the heritage with which my father had striven to imbue me that perhaps there was a grain of truth in Pipes’s diatribe. My moods and thinking, then and henceforth, were, without a doubt, a direct challenge to my father’s lifework. Historical processes, a combination of fatigue and normalization, and violent intercommunal clashes have mercilessly gnawed away at the fundamental values of secular Israeli society, threatening its very cohesiveness. Revisionist historical research has given rise to critiques of the Zionist narrative and to a...

  5. CHAPTER 3 Jerusalemites
    (pp. 57-96)

    It is amazing that Amos Oz, that “shining icon of Israeliness,” felt the need to respond to the accusations of discrimination and arrogance on the part of people of his background with the counterclaim that the Ashkenazim, too, had been miserable and poor and had suffered scorn and deprivation. Oz’s bookA Tale of Love and Darknessis laced with vignettes of the hard lives of “the poor Ashkenazim.” Oz describes the book as “not exactly an autobiography … a novel, as well, but not exactly a novel; a historical panorama, but not exactly a historical panorama,”¹ so he can...

  6. CHAPTER 4 “The Ceremony of Innocence Is Drowned . . .”
    (pp. 97-129)

    The early 1990s saw great expectations and messianic hopes in Eretz Israel / Palestine. Before long, however, it became clear that the peace process had encountered serious, perhaps even fatal, difficulties. It is not my intent here to chronicle the deterioration of this process—from the day the 1993 Declaration of Principles was signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, to the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, and beyond—but it may nonetheless be useful to summarize the landmark events of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past fifteen...

  7. CHAPTER 5 The Morning After
    (pp. 130-156)

    Only an inveterate pessimist or an absolute cynic could have failed to be moved by the signing of the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993, an event that rekindled the hope of the majority of Israelis that the Middle East was on the threshold of a new era of peace and prosperity and obliged even those who had opposed the Oslo process from the outset to confront their future anew. This optimistic atmosphere was all too soon superseded by a pervasive sense of frustration as a consequence of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and...

  8. CHAPTER 6 Separation and Disengagement
    (pp. 157-198)

    For many years, I have been following the changing incarnations in Israel/Palestine of the concept of “separation,” which has become a supermarket of contradictory meanings and perceptions. It adorns the banners leading the Left into battle for an end to the occupation, whereas for the extreme Right, “separation” is a politically correct term for expulsion of the Palestinians or their imprisonment in enormous concentration camps. A decade ago, I dealt elsewhere at length with the different forms of separation—spatial, functional, economic, legal, conceptual, horizontal, and vertical—a veritable galaxy of measures, generally radical and involving the employment of force,...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Descriptions and Prescriptions
    (pp. 199-228)

    In the early 1980s, I formulated a theory that gained notoriety under the title of “the irreversibility thesis” and came under frequent attack in the ensuing twenty years and more. In an article in theNew York Review of Books, I wrote in October 1983:

    The Likud government has implemented a settlement policy completely different from that of Labor. The difference does not lie only in the policy of building settlements in areas heavily populated by Arabs, which is an abomination to Labor; the major innovation has been aimed at creating internal political facts, not geostrategic facts. The Likud estimated...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 229-234)

    Some years ago, before it became fashionable to bash the sons of the founding fathers, I participated in a conference on “Israeli Identity.” When asked, “What, to you, defines being Israeli?” I replied, quite arrogantly, “My youth.”

    In my opinion, this response contained a modicum of truth, or at least subjective truth: in essence, I was heir to a stereotypical Israeli identity; and one can—by using my family’s CV and my own—construct a composite picture of what is customarily, perhaps somewhat anachronistically, described as “the Israeli identity.” Note the images that I invoke and the elements of my...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 235-240)
  12. Index
    (pp. 241-253)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 254-254)