The New Yorker excerpts MY PROMISED LAND

The Middle East is imploding, the Arab Spring is a memory, Syria is a surreal nightmare, yet a new attempt, brokered by the Obama Administration, is under way to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Can this new drive succeed where previous attempts have failed? It’s possible that the answer can be found in the history of Lydda, a small Palestinian city, now known as Lod, which lies east of Tel Aviv and west of Ramallah and Jerusalem––the very epicenter of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Anyone striving for Middle East peace must acknowledge the tragedy of Lydda and comprehend its implications.

In 1905, two years after Zionism first arrived in the Lydda Valley, a Jewish Russian entrepreneur built an olive-oil-soap factory, later named Atid (Hebrew for “future”), near the city. Shortly afterward, on the slope above the factory, a well-known Zionist teacher established an orphanage, called Kiryat Sefer, for the survivors of the pogrom in Kishinev, in Bessarabia. In 1908, members of the Zionist movement planted the Herzl Wald olive groves, commemorating its founder, Theodor Herzl, and, in the following two years, Zionists set up an artisan colony and an experimental agricultural farm. All those enterprises failed, except one—Ben Shemen, a “youth village” established by a doctor named Siegfried Lehmann.