How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less is a memoir by Sarah Glidden about how she took a ‘birthright’ tour to Israel (which is free) to try to understand the Israel Palestine conflict.
I was a bit apprehensive to read it because the first thought was that it will be biased and one sided. With certain reservations in mind however, I still picked it up. I was a bit disappointed though even while reading the graphic novel. The book does try to be unbiased but eventually is biased in some ways as well. Of course, it is not a piece of propagandist literature that outwardly supports Israel or its war with Palestine, but in many subtler ways, we see the conflict through a privileged gaze alone.
The protagonist does ask several relevant, thought provoking and politically incorrect questions and yes I do understand the conundrum that she must face as an American Jew, to comprehend one’s own heritage and one’s expected alliance with Israel . Yet on an another level, I was forced to ask that despite one’s religion, would one really support any country that is created out of sheer violence and making others bereft of their rights? If I were in her place, I would severely question and not try to prove how Israel is probably in the right. That was the one big problem that I think I had with the story.
No matter what any race or religion has faced historically, it does not justify any unwarranted violence on any other groups simply on the logic that you were once harassed or exiled. For me, that is faulty logic which is unsound and invalid. Peaceful co-existence is possible but this kind of fanaticism that is shown by Israel on the basis of religion and history is uncalled for.
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less does attempt to give a balanced view but fails to some extent. It talks about Israel and its history in great depth, the atrocities that were faced, the religious associations that Jews have with that place but we don’t really see the other side at all. We do see it at times but again through the eyes of Israelis. Only on one or two occasions in the graphic novel, do we see the problems that Palestinians faced. Particularly the part where the members of the tour were invited to be part of a conference of the Bereaved Family Forum where different individuals from both the sides share about their grievances to the audience. That was one incident that seemed genuine and showed the human side of the problem.
The sermon given by a rabbi that Sarah attends at the end of her trip outside of the birthright tour is another excellent example of how that conflict can be viewed equally.
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less does give an excellent insight into Israel’s history no matter how one sided it may be and is a great novel to use to teach Israel’s history.
However, it is not without its problems. One such was with the birthright tour itself. While the birthright tour group to Israel claims that through them one will get to know Israel up close and personal, it is far from that because the whole tour seemed quite touristy to say the least and at the most extremely biased. Only from the seventh chapter onward titled, Post Birthright, do we get to see the non-touristy sight of the place. Glidden is the least unbiased during that time (perhaps it is the tour itself that makes her believe in her “birthright’?). We see how both sides also co-exist especially in the religious sites and the shopping areas. Perhaps that is how ideally it should be: no group claiming precedence over the other and living harmoniously.
I would have loved if the novel ended on that note. But then we see Sarah being in Turkey on her way back sharing with the group of other travelers the fact that she traveled to Israel. Does it mean that she was nothing more than a backpacker? Do her travels become simply one of those glorified “experiences” that are peddled to everyone? The ending therefore was quite anticlimactic for me.
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less has seven chapters in all, with each chapter denoting the place on Glidden’s birthright tour. It is illustrated using beautiful pastel shades that are very soothing.
It begins with the first chapter titled: Orientation, which also shows about how the protagonist decided to go on this tour and is supplemented by very useful maps. Since each chapter takes you to a different place, each chapter begins with a map. And I do love great maps that help orient you especially if you do not know much about Israel’s geography.
To conclude, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, does make for a brilliant travelogue (hence it is included in this Travel Diaries series!) that takes you to a country that is known more for conflict than for its tourism. In that way, this graphic novel by Glidden, is a brilliant way to get a glimpse into the country and its locales but do keep an open mind while perusing it.