Book Review

Israel: A Simple Guide To The Most Misunderstood Country On Earth

Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth

Author: Noa Tishby

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher: Simon Schuster Audio

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Israel. The small strip of arid land is 5,700 miles away but remains a hot-button issue and a thorny topic of debate. But while everyone seems to have a strong opinion about Israel, how many people actually know the facts?

Here to fill in the information gap is Israeli American Noa Tishby. But “this is not your Bubbie’s history book” (Bill Maher, host of Real Time with Bill Maher). Instead, offering a fresh, 360-degree view, Tishby brings her “passion, humor, and deep intimacy” (Yossi Klein Halevi, New York Times bestselling author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor) to the subject, creating an accessible and dynamic portrait of a tiny country of outsized relevance. Through bite-sized chunks of history and deeply personal stories, Tishby chronicles her homeland’s evolution, beginning in Biblical times and moving forward to cover everything from WWI to Israel’s creation to the disputes dividing the country today. Tackling popular misconceptions with an abundance of facts, Tishby provides critical context around headline-generating controversies and offers a clear, intimate account of the richly cultured country of Israel.

To start with, Noa has a great voice for narrating books. She speaks English fluently with no accent, and her voice is exactly what I want in my ears for hours, sharing information about literally anything. The entire book is infused with her personality and a strong sense of humor, preventing the material from being dry or boring at any time.

She starts out with her journey towards writing this book. Growing up in Israel, she spent her entire life understanding certain truths, but when she moved to the United States, the way that Israel was (and still is) viewed was completely different. So she decided to start speaking up, and providing education on both the history and current events in the region.

“I needed to speak up because change can only come after acknowledgement of a reality. How can we aim to make a change in the Middle East, if we don’t know how we got there. If you don’t know where to start a journey, you can’t get anywhere.”

This audiobook is packed full of information and facts, on such a wide range of areas, that it’s hard to sum it all up in one short review. If I could say one thing about this book, it’s that I suggest that everyone read or listen to this. With her usual blunt yet approachable style, full of verifiable and factual information, Noa Tishby shares so much about Israel that helps debunk a lot of misinformation in the age where so few people really understand this tiny little country. She does it through a lens of genuine sensitivity towards both the Jewish and the Palestinian people, while sharing valid criticism of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, while making the super-important distinction that neither Israeli or Palestinian people are the embodiment of their governments. This is a fact that somehow gets lost in a lot of criticism. 

Let me go over what the story touches on, so you know what to expect: what Zionism actually is and the history of the movement (hint: it’s probably not what you’ve been told), the history of the region, beginning from Biblical times (and I’m not talking about relying on just the Bible as a source, but rather archaeological evidence and historical record), politics in the region, what life in the region has been like, demographics of the country (both Israel and Palestine), debunks common myths about Israel, discussion and criticism of Israeli policies, what the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement is and its aims, and the contributions that Israel has made to society and the world. 

Tishby, like many other Israelis, is a Zionist. As am I. But she explains what this word means, and why it isn’t a dirty word, even though social media or other people may tell you it is:

“This my friends, is the origin of Zionism. The necessity for Jewish safety and self-determination in their ancestral home. A movement of Jewish liberation. Not that complicated. The word Zionism comes from one of the seventy biblical terms to describe Jerusalem: Zion.”

“What is Zionism? It’s pretty simple actually. Zionism is about the Jews, like any other nation, being allowed to self-govern in their tiny piece of ancestral land. They’re allowed to have a state. Zionism is a merging of liberal values and cultural Jewishness.  In simple words it is a national liberation movement. Zionism was never about having an exclusively Jewish state. Never was and never will.“

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the region currently known as Israel for 3000+ years. It’s a proven historical fact. Jews are indigenous to that region. Now, something Tishby makes abundantly clear is that this does not mean that Arabs are not. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t also belong in this same region. Like the majority of Zionists, there is still a hope for peaceful coexistence. 

“Even the most zealous of Jews understand that they need a land, not all of it. The same needs to happen on the Palestinian side.”

I absolutely loved everything about this book — it’s a balanced look at the area and what it is, but also what it has the potential to be. It’s my genuine hope that more people read this and get a better understanding of what the reality on the ground is, before jumping behind keyboards and sharing misinformation that only serves to inflame the situation. But I guess we all have our dreams. While you’re at it, follow Noa on social media — she’s not hard to find, and she shares tiny snippets of truth all the time.

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