Soldier’s tale? No, just war tourism lit

There is nothing unusual about Seth Freedman’s story (Can I Bring My Own Gun? Five Leaves/Guardian Books, £8.99). Young British Jew leaves life of comfort to follow his Zionist ideals. Emigrates to Israel, joins the army (15 months in uniform giving him a lifetime’s supply of anecdotes), then, back on civvie street, he begins asking himself questions and becomes disillusioned with most of those ideals.

What Freedman has that makes him different is financial security (from being a stockbroker before emigrating), which affords him the time to tour the West Bank instead of joining the rat-race for survival like other Israelis. This is coupled with a talent for hyperbolic prose and a relentless urge to speak his mind — even though, by his own admission, he has changed this repeatedly over the past few years.

Freedman’s experience of the matters he writes about is slim, his thinking inconsistent and his writing cliché-ridden, exhibiting ignorance of basic historical facts. Yet the Guardian regularly gives him space on the Comment is Free section of its website and a publisher is willing, even in these cash-strapped times, to bring out a book of his musings.

Why should they — or the rest of us — care about what Seth Freedman thinks? The answer lies in the sub-title of his book: “An Israeli soldier’s story”. Freedman did not serve in an elite unit or fight in historic battles but the few months he spent chasing stone-throwing children in al-Aida refugee camp, and his willingness to perform a public act of contrition for that fleeting paramilitary experience, make him marketable.

I agree with one of Freedman’s main observations: 42 years of acting as an occupying power over the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and West Bank have caused untold damage to Israel and continuously bring out the worst elements in its society. Since the latest polls suggest that 57 per cent of Israelis support in principle the creation of a Palestinian state, it would seem that Freedman’s main argument with mainstream Israeli opinion is on the urgency and just how far Israel should go in making concessions to enable such a state to become a reality.

But writing about it on the Guardian’s website is all too easy. I would be much more impressed by Freedman if he made the effort to write in Hebrew and hold his own in the bear-pit of Israeli media.

    Last updated: 3:35pm, June 11 2009