Many people will recall the authoritative news broadcasts of Martin Fletcher, a highly-respected U.K.-born foreign affairs journalist. For 35 years Fletcher reported on world events from far-flung locations across three continents. For 26 years – 15 as bureau chief – he was the NBC correspondent in Israel.
Fletcher has reported on conflicts from Israel, Cyprus, Kosovo, Rwanda, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Cambodia and the Congo. Integrity and courage have been his hallmarks. Indeed, his reportage has garnered several awards including Overseas Press Club Awards, the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence, and five Emmys. Today he is a special assignment correspondent for NBC and PBS from his home in Israel.
Some people may not know that Fletcher is also an accomplished author. He has combined his many years of comprehensive journalistic experience with considerable writing skill, producing five acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction.
His first book, Breaking News, has been described as “one of the best books ever on the work of a foreign correspondent”. His second work of non-fiction, Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation, won the American National Jewish Book Award. Fletcher’s novels too – The List, Jacob’s Oath and The War Reporter – have been generally applauded as well. Fletcher writes about things he knows.
Now, Fletcher brings that knowledge to his fourth novel, Promised Land, a story that unfolds during the first two decades after the founding of Israel in 1948.
The main character of the story is the young country itself. Fletcher’s literary purpose is to explore how the nascent country secured its existence and grew through its first two decades. Fletcher cleverly relies upon a cadre of key protagonists – two brothers, Arie and Peter, who emerged from the Second World War in vastly different ways; the woman, Tamara, whom one brother marries but whom both love; and their extended family – as the collective, wide canvas upon which he paints the story of the country’s first years.
The book is rich in historical detail. As if excavating through different layers of Israel’s new, raw, evolving society, Fletcher touches upon a veritable encyclopedia of topics that together formed the roiling society, the coming together of disparate cultures and outcast communities that became known as the State of Israel. Many of the topics are sore spots to this day.
For example, Fletcher reflects upon the social, emotional, professional, familial, and cultural difficulties faced by the survivors of the Nazi atrocities and by the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the neighbouring Arab lands who flooded into the newly established country. He also discusses the treatment of the local Arabs by Israel’s security forces.
Not surprisingly, given the author’s professional background, discussions about Israel’s pressing security predicaments, its geo-political concerns, its secretive intelligence gathering establishment, the frustrating political structure and its remarkable young army abound. True to the intense society that Fletcher meticulously depicts however, those discussions are more along the lines of debates, arguments and disputations than they are calm discourses.
“Israel needs to hear different voices,” we are told during the course of an eyebrow-raising exchange of opinion on the subject of Egypt and its leaders in 1954.
Some of the different voices Fletcher records in Promised Land offer controversial, uncomfortable ideas that are critical of Israeli government policies. He gives voice to the spectrum of jagged opinions on issues that demand our attention even 70 years after Israel’s birth.
Fletcher is not naive on the subject of a possible peace treaty between Israel and her neighbours. After completing his book Walking Israel in 2011, he told the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, “I understand that [the Palestinians] will never want to live in peace with Israel. Hopefully, something will change – but I don’t believe it will change.”
While Fletcher does not turn away from controversial issues, he also does not hide his admiration for the country. In describing the people’s response to the repeated acts of terror against them during the early 1950s, he notes, “Israel’s secret weapon was the resilience of its people. They didn’t panic or run away, they fought back.”
Fletcher’s prose is particularly powerful in depicting battle episodes of the 1956 Sinai War and the Six Day War in 1967. He skilfully dispels the dangerous notion that war is a theatre for glory. In this book we see that battles are horrific and battlegrounds are gruesome.
The narrative storyline is a twine of two main threads: Peter’s aspiration to defend the new country and his brother Arie’s aspiration to build it and to prosper as a result. When the many conflicting and complementary filaments of other characters join the brothers’ story, the resulting twine becomes a colourful weave of emotion, betrayal, tenderness, ambition, self-sacrifice, brutality and heroism.
“What a wonderful thing to be a Jew!” Fletcher told his interviewer in 2011, in commenting upon Israel’s release of more than a thousand prisoners to secure the release of Gilad Schalit from his Hamas captors. “There’s a huge debate going on in Israel whether it was the right move or the wrong move, but the bottom line is that no other country would do this.”
That abiding sense of Israel’s uniqueness replete with its societal imperfections is the dominant achievement of Promised Land.
The story is to be continued. Promised Land is the first of an intended trilogy.