I was hoping that Goddess of Battle by Gwendolyn Rachel Ackerman, would be inspiring. I wanted to read a book that could make me believe that peace between Jews and Arabs in the nation known as Israel is attainable. That's why I downloaded it from Net Galley for review. It was released by the indie publisher, Black Rose Writing.
Tyra, the American Jewish protagonist, is the idealistic daughter of two progressive political activists. Tyra also seemed easily influenced until her values were seriously challenged by events in Israel. She then began to make her own decisions, but it was within the framework of wanting either her parents or her grandparents to be proud of her. So she was never completely independent minded. From an Israeli perspective, she seemed quite extraordinary. Yet she came from a family where dissent was normal.
Noureen, the Palestinian protagonist, found herself standing in opposition to her religiously conservative Islamic family at significant moments in the narrative. So it seemed to me that she was more independent than Tyra who often ended up following her upbringing.
Goddess of Battle tended to associate traditional religious approaches with intolerance and inflexibility. The Jewish characters who were most open to cooperation with Arabs were secular in their orientation. The Haredi characters are West Bank settlers who were strongly opposed to the two state solution. (For an extended discussion of the Haredi see this review.)
American readers who are viewing this situation from the outside, may imagine that the two state solution will necessarily bring peace. I considered this a facile attitude before I read this novel. Goddess of Battle clarified the immensity of the challenges involved in carving two states out of the territory that is now Israel.
I believe that the official encouragement of Jewish West Bank settlement has rendered the two state solution impossible. The current Israeli government has already deliberately blown past the tipping point. Even if that weren't so, there would still be bitter land disputes over drawing the borders of each state. As someone with relatives in Haifa, I was horrified by the character in this novel whose map of Palestine included Haifa. Did that character believe in the right of Israel to exist? I was not entirely convinced that all the Arab characters in Goddess of Battle who advocated the two state solution were sincere. Given the human rights violations that Israel has perpetrated which are poignantly illustrated in this book, I understand the deep resentment against Israel. Yet bad faith negotiation will not fix the situation.
The biggest obstacle to peace will always be Jerusalem/Al Quds, a sacred place in three religions. It seems to me that the Haredi are settling on the West Bank to prevent Jewish loss of access to Jerusalem. This is not a fantasy based on religious extremism. Jews had no access to Jerusalem when the West Bank was part of Jordan. There are many Jewish Israelis alive today who remember being denied access to Jerusalem.
Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, the sons of Abraham. In the Bible God promised Abraham and his descendants the Land of Canaan. This common heritage could be a basis for peace and cooperation within a shared territory, but instead the descendants of these two brothers seem destined to destroy one another trying to establish which ones are Abraham's true heirs.
I believe that Gwendolyn Rachel Ackerman intended Goddess of Battle to be a beacon of hope for its readers. It saddened me because I truly don't see how we get to peace from here.