A simple guide to the most misunderstood country on Earth (book review)

Written by on May 19, 2021

By W. Thomas Smith Jr., Op-ed Contributor

W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Courtesy of W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Israeli-American Noa Tishby is many things: a model, actress, writer, producer, and former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. She’s also something of a paradox, an interesting combination of her political inclinations on the one hand and her experience-based grasp of the world on the other, especially as it pertains to Israel and the Middle East. A self-described “Lefty,” Tishby believes as do her politically conservative counterparts that Israel is a nation for good, a model of social and economic success, yet surrounded by enemies who want nothing less than to wipe the Jewish state off the map.

She also makes the claim, quite convincingly, that Israel is “the most misunderstood country on earth.” Israel is easily the most unique in terms of its history, its founding, and its place in time and space. All of which are why she’s written Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth (Free Press, April 2021).

It’s a fascinating guidebook to be sure, and anyone – like myself – who has traveled to Israel will attest to that. But it’s so much more: It’s political, military, economic, even ancient Biblical history; geography; and a largely nonpartisan approach to the various state actors and key international players of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries; all of which is written in Tishby’s charming albeit sometimes irreverent, always straightforward conversational manner.

Tishby barely touches on God, which speaks to her self-description as “a secular Jew.” But she cannot ignore God. No one can. And she says so.

“For some reason, Israel is the physical origin of two monotheistic religions (Judaism and Christianity) and the third holiest place for the third monotheistic religion (Islam) as practiced today,” writes Tishby. “God only knows why. Literally.”

Tishby also speaks, perhaps intentionally, likely not, to the veracity of Scripture.

For instance: “Archeologists have found an abundance of remains and artifacts in Jerusalem associated with the first Temple, including a 2,600-year-old seal called a bulla with a name written on it in Hebrew, ‘Natan-Melech, Eved Ha’Melech,’ a tooth-breaking name that appears in the second book of Kings,” writes Tishby. “In that book [2nd Kings], there are many outrageous descriptions of drama, with inner struggles, wars, sex, and blood. But while I can’t verify who exactly slept with whom, I can verify that a Jewish state did exist as the United Israelite Monarchy approximately 3,000 years ago before it split into two separate Jewish states, Israel and Judea. All these ancient and dramatic events happened on the exact same land where Israel is located today.”

Tishby adds, “I don’t believe this because of religious credo, but because of archeology, science, and history.”

Tishby’s homeland is relatively small; approximately 8,019 square miles. “A pint-sized strip of land,” she says. “For reference, the state of New Jersey is 8,723 square miles. So as countries go, Israel isn’t a big one. It takes about six hours to drive from north to south, and about an hour from east to west. That’s it.”

Tiny Israel is surrounded by Arab enemies as Tishby explains, and not simply Palestinian enemies as there are Muslim Arab Palestinians, Jewish Palestinians, and christian Palestinians living, working, and raising families in what we American Christians have often referred to as “the Holy Land” – Israel and the West Bank (of the Jordan River).

The book covers everything from a brief history of ancient Israel through Zionism and the modern era, all of Israel’s wars and military campaigns since the rebirth of the Jewish state in 1948, failed efforts to achieve a lasting peace and a Palestinian state (which Tishby contends groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas don’t really want unless Israel is completely eliminated in the process), land, culture, demographics, the future, and Tishby’s personal story and that of her family.

Tishby explains in simplest terms why Israel is “a society mixed, not stirred,” and she suggests, “May the melting pot not melt us all.”

She also explains why the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to supposedly free “the oppressed Palestinian people” from the Israelis is a dangerous absurdity which has been widely embraced by American college students – even some Democrat members of the U.S. Congress – who wrongly believe it is a righteous springboard for “social justice.”

According to Tishby, the Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, are indeed oppressed. But not by the Israeli government, but by the terrorist group Hamas which are the people’s governing body in Gaza.

“BDS is three-letter acronym that’s tossed around more than a pita bread on an Israeli barbeque,” Tishby says, adding, “BDS acts to do just that: Wage economic warfare on Israel.” She details “the lies [BDS] has spread and the damage it has done, and why it needs to be ousted from any liberal society.”

During a book-release interview with Meghan McCain on ABC television’s The View, the conservative McCain asked liberal Tishby if she was surprised by the “Progressive Left’s” inclination toward “writing off Israel” and the calls “for boycotts and sanctions” against the Jewish state. 

“Look, I’m not only surprised by the Left’s bashing of Israel and lack of understanding of the subject, I’m horrified by this,” Tishby responded. “This is not just bad for Israel, this is bad for Western civilization.”

Reviews for Tishby’s book are an interesting mix of praise from both political camps: Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro calls it “a must read,” and liberal TV host and satirist Bill Maher says, “Tishby rolls the entire history of Israel into a blunt and insightful read.”

The book concludes with a high readable five-page chronological synopsis of the previous 294 pages, followed by a glossary, notes, and an index.

Tishby claims she wrote Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth because Israel is indeed “misunderstood” and there is no other plain-spoken volume like hers that best explains the unknowns and misconceptions. And she’s right.

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a military technical consultant, a formerly deployed U.S. Marine Infantry leader, and a retired colonel in the S.C. Military Department where he served as founding director of the department’s Counterterrorism Task Force.  Smith is also a New York Times bestselling editor and a writer whose work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines around the world. He taught as an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of South Carolina. Visit Smith online – http://uswriter.com.

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