Yossi Klein Halevi’s epic tale of modern Israel’s evolution is built around the lives of seven paratroopers who fought in Jerusalem in 1967.
One might group his protagonists as the four left-wing, secular kibbutzniks and the three right-wing, Orthodox settlers.
But beneath the superficial categorizations lie the passions, the nuances and the personal struggles on the national stage that energize “Like Dreamers”:
Arik Achmon: The chief intelligence officer of the 55th Paratroop Brigade in 1967, Achmon went on to help lead the crossing of the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War six years later, changing the momentum of that conflict.
Achmon, who was born on Kibbutz Givat Brenner, is one of Halevi’s four “kibbutz paratroopers,” and arguably the most important figure in the book.
Says Halevi: “When [Achmon] realized he could trust me, [he] adopted this book as virtually a full-time project, at times, of his life. He was retiring and saw this as one of his last, major projects.”
Udi Adiv: By some distance the book’s most radical left-wing prime character, Adiv, born on Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, served 12 years in jail for his role in creating an anti-Zionist terrorist underground.
Meir Ariel: One of the most compelling and lovable characters in the book, Ariel is described by Halevi as “the great poet/balladeer of the last generation… regarded universally by his peers, by Israeli musicians, as the great Israeli composer of popular song. Nobody comes close to him, in terms of the quality of the Hebrew, the complexity, the courage of the themes that he took on.”
Ariel, a member of Kibbutz Mishmarot who first came to attention in Israel as the “singing paratrooper” of 1967, with his “Jerusalem of Iron,” was the only one of the book’s seven protagonists who had died (in 1999) before Halevi started work on it.
Avital Geva: Born on Kibbutz Ein Shemer, wounded in the battle for Jerusalem, Geva became a Peace Now activist and an often infuriatingly principled conceptual artist and educator.
Yoel Bin-Nun: A founder of Gush Emunim and of the settlements of Ofra and Alon Shvut, Bin-Nun is perhaps the book’s other central character along with Achmon.
A man of passionate ideals, with a firm belief in the role of the divine hand in modern Israel, Bin-Nun publicly broke away from the leadership of the settlement movement in the wake of the Rabin assassination.
His relationship with Rabin in the months prior to the killing, as detailed for the first time in “Like Dreamers,” was, says Halevi, “one of the revelations of this project.”
Yisrael Harel: A protagonist but not always a hero in the book, Harel is a longtime resident of Ofra, and founder of both the Yesha settlers council and the settler magazine Nekudah.
Hanan Porat: The second of the seven to have died — in 2011 — Porat founded the first West Bank settlement, Kfar Etzion, was badly wounded in the Yom Kippur War, was the first settler leader to become a member of Knesset, and was notorious for his smiling response to Baruch Goldstein’s Purim massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994 — an episode Halevi does his best to clarify in “Like Dreamers.”