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Bibliographical Information
Losing Israel
Jasmine Donahaye
ISBN: 9781781722527 (1781722528)Publication Date May 2015
Publisher: Seren, Bridgend
Format: Hardback, 214x142 mm, 206 pages Language: English Available Our Price: £12.99 
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In Losing Israel the search for her family's past and the part her forebears played in the newly created Israel reveals unsettling knowledge about kibbutzim in Israel. Challenged by this new and unwonted information Donahaye's notion of history and her understanding of Israel, of her grandparents and of her identity is completely transformed.

Mae ymchwil yr awdures i hanes ei theulu ac i gyfraniad ei chyndeidiau at yr Israel newydd yn datgelu gwybodaeth anghyfforddus am drefn y cibwts yn y wlad. Wrth gael ei herio gan yr wybodaeth newydd ac annisgwyl hwn, caiff dirnadaeth Donahaye o hanes gwlad ei thadau, o fywyd ei thaid a'i nain ac o'i hunaniaeth hithau ei drawsnewid yn llwyr.
Having recently read both Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land, I was keen to hear Jasmine Donahaye’s voice on this most beautiful and troubled part of the world. It is a voice both passionate and measured – that of poet, biographer, academic, naturalist and memoirist – and I have come away more informed, though still (necessarily) disoriented. For there are no easy answers, no one-true-story. Instead, there are many questions and many truths, all of them complicated.

Donahaye’s mother was born in Palestine and brought up on the Beit Hashita kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley. She left with her husband in 1963, and did not return for fifteen years, all the while suffering ‘unhealing, unhealable’ homesickness. Donahaye was ten when the family made their first visit to Israel in 1978: ‘Israel is an impression of barbed wire and rusting yellow warning signs on the beaches, the scent of orange blossom and the stink of sewage, hot nights and ruins.’

Introduced to the country she perceived as her homeland at an impressionable age, Donahaye embraced her mother’s ‘unreconstructed Labour Zionism’ and accepted without question the romanticised, carefully edited stories she was told about the land and her family’s history. She returned again and again, with her family and alone. Slowly, doubt crept in, the realisation that there was another story. At first, the story begins with the Nakba of 1948, the erasure of Palestinian villages from the land and from the maps (‘Harus, the map says – destroyed. Again and again, printed over in purple Hebrew – destroyed… destroyed… destroyed…’), Arabic place names ‘disappeared’ by new Hebrew ones. But then Donahaye realised that the story began long before, and that her family, the heroic kibbutzniks who sacrificed so much for their Jewish homeland, were implicated.

Donahaye’s relationship with Israel becomes deeply ambivalent and conflicted (‘Suddenly I can’t wait to leave. As soon as I leave, I am homesick; I want to go back. It always happens, every time!’) and, as she pursues her research into the past and the history of the Beit Hashita kibbutz, the family myths are torn to shreds. It is a painful awakening that brings anger and sadness and a questioning of identity: if your family and homeland are not what you always believed them to be, then who are you?

Losing Israel is a book of courage and subtlety that brings together a story that is both international and deeply personal, and it works on both levels. Donahaye’s love of birds and the natural world runs through it all as a constant thread. The Palestine sunbird lives only there, in this beleaguered place. Or should we call it the orange-tufted sunbird? Or perhaps now the Israel sunbird? The bird and the place remain essentially the same, beautiful and wild. But in our naming of things, we rewrite the world.

Suzy Ceulan Hughes

It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Author Biography:
Jasmine Donahaye worked in the publishing sector before joining the English Department at Swansea University, where she is now a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing. Her previous books include a biography of Welsh-Jewish author Lily Tobias, The Greatest Need; a monograph, Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine; and two poetry collections – Self-Portrait as Ruth and Misappropriations.
Further Information:
In 2007, in a chance conversation with her mother, a kibbutznik, Jasmine Donahaye stumbled upon the collusion of her family in the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. She set out to learn the story of what happened, and discovered an earlier and rarely discussed piece of history during the British Mandate in Palestine.

Her discoveries challenged everything she thought she knew about the country and her family, and transformed her understanding of the place, and of herself.

Losing Israel is a moving and honest account which spans travel writing, nature writing and memoir. Through the author's personal situation it explores the powerful and competing attachments that people feel about their country and its history, by attempting to understand and reconcile her conflicted attachments, rooted in her family story - and in a love of Israel's birds. A life-long bird watcher, Donahaye uses birds in Israel and her home in Wales to provide an unexpected and intriguing linking trope across the various themes of the book.

Losing Israel stands apart from other titles about the Israel/Palestine situation with its focus on the British Mandate period, Palestine’s history in the 1930s, and the kibbutz movement. Her writing is frank and often immediate: the locations in Israel and Wales are sensually alive, and the author's physical exertions felt by the reader.

Her childhood memories of her mother’s kibbutz, and her own experiences in Israel and Wales as an adult also bring originality to her writing. Losing Israel works on many levels - family relationships, the nature of patriotism and nationalism, cultural dislocation, the story of the Jewish diaspora and Israel, how history changes from one generation to the next, the histories of the dispossessed and the oppressed.

In combining history, birdwatching, and her personal story Donahaye has written an accessible and human book about an habitual controversial conflict.
Losing Israel is shortlisted for the Book of the Year Award 2016.
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