Summary of Book Two: The Land is Mine
The Book begins with a quote from Leviticus in which God claims to Moses that the land of Galilee is His, and he gives it to the Jews to redeem. This sounds the theme throughout the novel that the land in Palestine is not just any land, but holy land. The Jews are the people chosen by God to redeem the land, to make it fertile and to be its caretakers.
The Exodus children are put in a hospital on Cyprus after their starvation ordeal on the ship. Kitty does not know whether to follow Karen to Palestine. She asks David Ben Ami, who is easy to talk to, about Ari’s background She does not understand the Jewish obsession with Palestine. She knows Karen will choose Palestine and danger rather than safety with her in America where she would adopt Karen and give her every advantage.
The narrative voice takes over, interspersing personal history of characters with historical movements leading to the founding of modern Israel. This chapter is focused on Ari’s father and uncle, Jossi and Yakov Rabinsky, who fled from Russia to Palestine in 1884. They lived within the Jewish Pale of Settlement where Jews had been forced to live in Russia since 1804. Even through persecution and frequent pogroms, the Russian Jews prided themselves on their Biblical scholarship. The Rabinskys are boot makers but devoted to religious study. Yakov, the fiery younger brother, is however secretly a Zionist. In 1881, a group of Russian Zionists called Bilus founded a farming village in Palestine, and this inflames Yakov’s imagination with a desire for freedom. He identifies intensely with Biblical history and is always quoting scripture.
During a race riot, Russians kill the boys’ father, and in revenge, Yakov murders the man responsible. The brothers are only 14 and 16, but they have to flee their village, and they walk for three years to get to Palestine, fed and helped by Jews along the way. The Promised Land is a disappointment: it is desert or swamp peopled with Arab tribes in poverty. Jossi the peacemaker makes friends with the Arab ruler of Abu Yesha, Kammal, who helps them get settled and even sells them land. The brothers visit all the holy sites mentioned in the Bible only to find Palestine a neglected and “a dying land” (p. 216). The brothers work as laborers and drop their religious life. They work hard but enjoy their freedom.
The Rabinskys are part of the Jewish initiative called land redemption to clear the land and make it fruitful. Jossi becomes one of the land buyers because he knows the Arabs and the land. He is a skillful negotiator. When Kammal helps him, he helps Kammal’s people to learn better ways of farming and sanitation, so that both Jews and Arabs prosper in the region. Yakov, on the other hand, is part of the founding Jewish militia. He convinces Jossi to join him in fighting off hostile Arabs to protect the farmers.
Jossi marries Sarah and has two children, Ari and Jordana. He changes his name to Barak Ben Canaan. They live on experimental or cooperative farms called kibbutzim and make the land grow crops through ingenuity and backbreaking labor. Yakov becomes Akiva, marries Ruth, and has a daughter, Sharona. The brothers fight with British troops in World War I, after which the Balfour Declaration allowing the Jewish right of settlement in Palestine, ratified by 50 countries, becomes the Israeli Magna Charta. A new Jewish civilization springs up governed by the democratic Yishuv Central, though Israel is not yet a recognized country.
Even though the Jews make peace with some of the Arab nations, there are always Arab leaders and terrorists who want to get rid of the Jews. The Jewish settlers are under constant attack, and Aviva’s wife and daughter are killed by Arabs, leaving him bitter and revengeful. Akiva and Barak become part of the secret Israeli army, the Haganah, organized as a militia or defensive army that engages in skirmishes with Arabs and British with their smuggled weapons. The British turn against the Jews after World War I and begin to back the Arabs.
As the farmers fight malaria and drought to make a garden of the desert, young Ari grows up knowing many languages and both Arab and Jewish ways. His foster brother is Taha, Kammal’s son. The Arab village and kibbutz live as neighbors. Barak teaches Ari to fight as well as to farm. Ari and his fiancée, Dafna, are both members of the Haganah. Before they can marry, Dafna is tortured and killed by Arab terrorists. Akiva withdraws from the Haganah to create a Jewish terrorist group, the Maccabees. Barak never speaks to Akiva again for splintering Jewish unity and peaceful ways.
The Haganah itself is driven underground as the British begin to limit Jewish immigration and interfere with Jewish settlement. Ari, with his friends David Ben Ami, Joab Yarkoni, and Zev Gilboa, becomes an agent for illegal immigration and a member of the Palmach, the guerilla group of the Haganah, using all kinds of strategies to subvert the British, such as his staging of the Exodus incident. When Kammal is killed by Arabs for helping Jews, Kammal’s son Taha is brought up in the Jewish kibbutz for safety and secretly falls in love with Jordana, Ari’s sister. The Haganah accepts training from a British military genius, P. P. Malcolm, who admires Jewish military potential and teaches Jews to appreciate and use strategies from their own Old Testament military heroes. They become an outstanding force winning against tremendous odds, with few men and fewer weapons, but indomitable determination.
When the British cut off Jewish immigration, Ari goes to Germany to get out what Jews he can and even negotiates with Nazis to embarrass the British. Nevertheless, he and many Palestinian Jews join the British army to fight Hitler. Barak becomes an international negotiator for Israel while Akiva remains a Jewish terrorist.
The narrative returns to the present Chanukah party in 1946 on Cyprus for the Exodus children. David tells the story of the Biblical warrior, Judah Maccabee, to the children. Former British Brigadier Bruce Sutherland is there, now retired, standing near Kitty to listen and participate in the party. The Exodus sails to Palestine and is greeted by 25,000 Jews at Haifa.
Commentary on Book Two: This Land is Mine
This book backtracks to the first Jewish pioneers to Palestine in the Zionist movement of the nineteenth century. Ari has been brought up a free Jew, and his life is contrasted to the Jews of Europe who lived in ghettos or concentration camps. The motivation for the flashback to the Rabinskys’ story is that Kitty wants to know more about Ari and about the mysterious drive of the Jews to get to Palestine. David Ben Ami is pleasant in contrast to Ari’s austere and distant manner. He is a Biblical scholar and befriends Kitty, telling her of the settling of Palestine, so she can understand the man she is in love with, and her foster daughter, Karen.
The Rabinskys were Russian Jews confined by the Russian Tsars to the Pale of Settlement covering part of Poland, Byelorussia, the Ukraine, and Lithuania. The people were not allowed into professions and were poor and subject to famine, cholera, and starvation. Pogroms or attacks of violence by Cossacks, troops loyal to the Tsar, happened regularly and unexpectedly. In some countries, Jews were assimilated into society, but in countries where they were forced into ghettos, they developed a closed culture, dominated by their religious life. The Rabinskys spend all spare time and money on religious study. Conscription of Jewish men into the Russian army was a way the Tsar tried to destroy Jewish culture, for a man was forced to serve for twenty-five years and thus could not pursue his religion. These intolerable conditions led to the great immigration of millions of Jews to America between 1880-1920. Others, like the Rabinskys, became Zionists and moved to Palestine.
The principles of Judaism were different in the Zionist movement, reflected in the democratically run Yishuv Central, or governing body in the Jewish capital at Tel Aviv, and in the kibbutzim, the cooperative farms where property was held in common. On the kibbutz, men and women were equal, everyone worked, and everyone served in the military. The kibbutz was self-sufficient, growing its own food, with its own schools, hospital, militia, and religious life. A variation was the moshav, a farming settlement where people could own their own property. Ari grows up in the settlements and learns early a military way of life, along with farming. His father Barak (Jossi) instills in him the pride that he is a free Jew, not a ghetto Jew, and therefore, he must learn how to fight to defend himself and his people. Though the Palestinian Jews fashion their own lives, they are in constant danger, reflected in Akiva’s wife and daughter being killed, Ari’s girlfriend, Dafna murdered, and even Ari’s mother is tortured by Arabs when she is pregnant with Ari. They have a hard life, fighting the desert to make a fruitful land, and fighting the Arabs and later, the British, to have a piece of the land for their own. These fierce pioneering Jews are contrasted to the Jews in Jerusalem, the Hasidim, who are fanatics waiting for the Messiah to save them. They will not defend themselves and regularly get slaughtered. They create the old stereotype of the passive meek Jew that Uris repudiates in the character of Ari, the new Israeli Jew, who is a superfighter.
The portrait of P. P. Malcolm, the British trainer of Zionist troops, is a fictionalized version of Major-General Orde Wingate (1903-1944), a British army officer who felt it his Christian duty to help the Jews in Palestine. He created special Jewish military units in Palestine in the 1930s and World War II.
Uris brings in an important argument for the legitimacy of Israel. The Jews raise the whole standard of living in Palestine, as Kammal admits to his friend, Barak. They help the poverty-stricken Arabs who are ignored by their own leaders. Kammal is a liberal leader who wants improvement for his people, but only the Jews are interested in such projects. He learns sanitation and farming methods from the kibbutzniks. Uris sympathetically gives a background of Arab history in the region, showing how the once great civilization of Islam, the greatest light of civilization during the Dark Ages, with its advanced learning and art, degenerated into a tragic history for later Arabs, reduced by constant invasions and warfare, to poverty, disease, and illiteracy, and exploited by their own leaders.
A theme in this chapter is the Maccabees and Judah Maccabee, the great Jewish military leader who used guerilla warfare against the superior army of the Greeks to liberate Jerusalem, 167-160 BCE. The holiday of Chanukah, meaning dedication, celebrates his victory and is told in this novel at the Chanukah party by David to the children. Akiva also names his terrorist group the Maccabees, a fictional portrait of the Irgun, the Zionist paramilitary group that existed from 1931-1945. Akiva’s role is similar to the real life Avraham Stern (1907-1942) a Jewish terrorist leader who founded the Lehi militant organization, and like Akiva, was killed by the British.