I didn’t really hold out high hopes that this book was going to be an amazing read, and I was also a bit wary of it being more of the bumpf that’s regularly turned out in Israel trying to confer sainthood on thoroughly evil secular political figures - but you know what? I was wrong on both counts.
Firstly, the book is beautifully written, with some very nice poetic flourishes and gorgeous descriptions. Secondly, it paints a very detailed picture of what it actually meant to make aliya back in the 1920s, and how the political reality on the ground leading up to 1948 (and afterwards) was actually not the rosy ‘pioneering’ picture so often served up for public consumption, particularly to Jews in chutz L’aretz.
The basic story is this: Yehuda Segal was a member of the Irgun underground movement. His family literally broke the ground in the Ahuza neighbourhood of Haifa, and struggled mightily to stay in Eretz Israel. (They’d left a good lifestyle back home in Romania, to live the dream of settling the land, and it was really, really hard.)
Yehuda was kidnapped by the Hagana organization that had David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and other really evil people at its head, tortured, and then murdered.
Except that the Hagana never owned up to the last bit of what happened, and dumped Yehuda Segal’s body near a hostile Arab village in Haifa, claiming he’d been murdered by the locals after somehow escaping his torture session by his Jewish captors.
All this occurred shortly before the 1948 declaration of independence, when Ben Gurion et al where ruthlessly suppressing any activity that could prevent the Mapai (later ‘Labour’ ) party from keeping control of the country.
The Grandmother in question was Yehuda Segal’s mother, Malka, who personally appealed to the Irgun leadership of Menachem Begin and his colleagues not to begin a civil war in retaliation for Yehuda’s death.
The writer, Haggai Segal, is Yehuda’s nephew, and took it upon himself to piece the true story together (which was given the usual ‘whitewash’ treatment by the leftist-run Israeli media), and wrote this book as a result.
The book spoke to me on a number of levels: Firstly, I was amazed by the sheer fortitude and good character of the early Segal family, and their idealism. It reminded me why I made aliya, too, and it made me feel less alone in all the ups and downs I’m dealing with in my own life.
Eretz Yisrael is acquired by suffering. There is apparently no other way of really getting (and staying…) here.
Secondly, it provided so many details of the brutal, violent, ruthless and downright evil tactics the Haganah and the Mapai used to control the country - including pinning the murder of their political opponents on Arabs, using torture and assassination to cow the Jewish people into submission, and deceitful propaganda and mind-control tactics via the media that appeared to have been learned at the knee of Stalin himself.
If you want to know why Israel is in the mess it’s in today, read this book. If you want to see how the same tactics the anti-Torah politicians and people of influence were using then, in 1948, are still being used today, in 2016, read this book.
If you want to understand why the secular political culture in Israel has been rotten right from the start, and how it’s perpetuated itself into our days via cronyism, violence and control of the media, read this book.
But for all that, this book is really not ‘political’ in any sense of the word. Fundamentally, it’s a beautifully-written story of a family that made the ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish state - and who never regretted it.
- How my grandmother prevented a civil war, by Haggai Segal, is published by Gefen publishing.