Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation by Yossi Klein Halevi is a historical account that follows the footsteps of seven Israeli paratroopers who fought together and the different paths their lives took.
The immediate thought I had when seeing reading this book was my dad. He was an Israeli paratrooper and fought in the 1967 Six Days War. I would have loved for him to read this book and get his take, but he passed away three years ago.
My father was always proud of being a paratrooper, but he rarely talked about it. I knew he fought in three wars as a soldier and an officer, but never got any details. I know he fought outside Jerusalem (he was a paratrooper doing his mandatory service, the book is about the reserve units) but that’s just about it.
My dad belonged to that selfless generation of kibbutzniks who did their jobs and their duty without complaining and not realizing they were doing anything special. I also remember how much time he spent in the reserves, when called upon he answered without hesitation (to my mother’s dismay). I remember officers coming to our apartment in the Kibbutz and his friends just dropping by.
I would have loved for him to read this book, I’m sure he personally knew several of the people in it.
Mr. Halevi goes back to a time where the Jews, barely two decades after the Holocaust, are facing annihilation again, and again the world is not interested in helping. Then, in six days, the state of Israel tripled its size, won a war in a way which seemed miraculous, liberated (depends who you ask) Jerusalem and divided itself for decades to come.
Whatever happened before or after, the Battle of Jerusalem was a pivotal point in Israeli and Middle Eastern history. Mr. Halevi tells the story of the battle and its aftermath in both cultural and historical context through the view point of the seven paratroopers, which make the events more personal and understandable.
The author does an excellent job keeping the story balanced. He presents the views of the kibbutzniks who want a socialist paradise, the religious settlers and their views on the importance of keeping the land, the capitalist and the artist.
The lives of the seven paratroopers kept interlacing, whether in war or peace. While the seven maintained different views on what’s good for the state of Israel and society, they mostly managed to keep a friendly and supportive relationship. What the author manages to convey, is not only Israel’s reality and its problems, but also the lifelong connections of those who served in the Israeli army.
The book shows Israeli history and ideology through the eyes of elite Ashkenazi soldiers, women are sidekicks, Palestine merely an idea and Sephardic Jews are barely mentioned. Yet, the narrative is fascinating, the stories are personal and the history is rich.