This novel was published in Israel in 2014 and was banned from all school curriculum reading lists in Israel and the same year became an international best seller. With all the controversy and all the praise surrounding All the Rivers, I felt obligated to give it a try. I was prepared to dislike the book before I even started it as the story is about a young Israeli woman and a young Palestinian man who meet and fall in love in New York, and I knew by reading the summary and international praise that the story would challenge basic facts about Israel's existence and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And no amount of well-written romance would be able to distract me from that. But I picked up the book and to my surprise it is was a beautifully written love story that I found myself relating to more than I found myself opposing it.
"The land is the same land. And, Bazi, what was it you said once, remember? In the end all the rivers flow into the same sea."
Liat is from Tel Aviv and Hilmi is from Hevron, they meet in New York through a mutual acquaintance, and that is the beginning of an inseparable love that takes them through experiences and conversations together they were never prepared to have. With a tragic and meaningful ending, All the Rivers had me unexpectedly in tears by the end (my husband was very surprised when I burst in to tears across the patio from him). There was so much beauty in this book. That being said, as an Israeli, I found Liat's side of discussions and arguments about the state of Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict more than a little feeble. When confronted with an emotionally charged comment or question from Hilmi regarding her military service in Israel or about the future of a Palestinian or a two state solution, Liat's reasoning and defense of her country and homeland were rather misinformed at worst and pathetic at best. I understand that love can cloud our judgement, or perhaps we don't want to risk offending someone we love by speaking the truth, but if that person really loves you they will want to hear your truth. I think Liat and Hilmi knew it wouldn't last between them because they always stopped short of speaking their truths. For example, the two big "controversial" questions concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are usually, "What about Palestinian right to land in Israel/what about a two state solution" and the second question that Hilmi and his brothers asked Liat several times in All the Rivers is "Why does it matter so much to you? Why can't Israelis just compromise? Why can't Israelis share the land and governance with Palestinians?". In short, the answers to the questions are really quite simple: Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel This is a fact backed by archaeology, history, thousands of years of prayers, Judaism, the entire Jewish calendar being based on life in Israel, genetics, art, poetry, songs, and indigenous coins and artifacts. But just by knowing the answers to these questions doesn't make solving the issues between Israelis and Palestinians any easier. Palestinians occupy indigenous Jewish land in Israel and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, so a solution must be made in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in safety and self-determination.
When Hilmi told Liat that the IDF was the same as Hamas I'm sure Liat could've come up with a better response than, " What?? No! Its not, its different." *eye roll*
Its maybe not even worth mentioning that so many things Hilmi and his pro-Palestinian friends and family say in reference to Israel are blatantly untrue.
And lastly, as a native-born Israeli, I expected Liat to have a better understanding of the conflicts in Israel and the history of Israel. After living here for several years, I have come to understand how true it is when people who live in the North and the South of Israel say that people who live in Tel Aviv live in a different country from the rest of us. If this novel had been written with Liat as a woman born and raised in Be'er Sheva, the whole story would have been totally different.
As this is a love story, the lack of real common-sense conversations and the fact that they don't take active steps to finding a common ground their relationship can flourish on is to be expected. Hilmi and Liat are passionately in love and love can be blinding.
I really enjoyed the beautiful imagery in the book and especially enjoyed the description of Hilmi's house and garden he renovated when he moved back to be near his family.
"It begins with wanting to hang up a hammock outside. He's already set up a nice coffee corner on the porch, where he sits in the morning and entertains in the evening, looking out onto the garden and the wadi beyond."
Until the next review, be well.