Born in England of parents raised on a very hard line kibbutz (where parents greeted other people's children before their own in order to demonstrate their fealty to collectivism) Donahaye has spent much time in Israel (and California) and now lives in a peaceful but rain-soaked valley in Mid Wales. This book is the story of her gradual discovery that the narrative of happy enterprising peasant communitarianism promoted by the kibbutz masked another story of the destruction of Arab villages in what is now Israel. Guided by her mother's revelations, Donahaye returns to Israel with many questions to be answered and the time that interests her is that of the early days of the founding of Israel in the late 1940s when the British Mandate in Palestine was ending. She learns from historical accounts, archives, maps, that the Arab villages on which the kibbutz-dwellers built were not depopulated by some form of natural wastage or voluntary emigration but their inhabitants were expelled, the names of the villages erased and renamed.
What makes this book so absorbing is the author's unflinching honesty about herself and her Jewish family, its powerful moral clarity never wobbling off into priggish self-righteousness. She simply looks at the evidence and it is unmistakeable. She also has a gift for describing people and places and presenting her conversations in vivid dialogue so what might have been an over-earnest endeavour stays alive and readable. She describes the moment when she first spoke to her mother in Hebrew: "there was a look on her face, in the hesitation before she answered, of nakedness. It felt like a transgression, this entry into who she was not possible except in her first language. It shocked her. It shocked me too. For one unguarded moment her deep past, her buried childhood rushed up in her and responded, and I witnessed it; for a brief moment, before she once again guarded herself, there was an intimacy I had never before known. And then it was gone." Discovering her family's "culpability in the displacement of Palestinians" she finds eventually that "my sense of who I was came undone".
But it is not a simple matter of going to Israel, finding, on foot, the slight vestiges of the old Arab settlements that were not officially there in the environs of the kibbutz which her grandfather helped to build. There is a whole family and national history to come to terms with. Donahaye firmly rebuts the standard charge of "Jewish self-hatred" levelled by the Israeli right when such matters come up. "According to that view, any criticism of Israel is a criticism of your Jewish self, shows a disconnection and corruption in your Jewish core, and yet because I cannot hate my Jewishness, and cannot hate Israel that I feel conflicted." In her lyrical passages about her current Welsh home and about the wonderful richness and variety of Israeli birds which, as a birdwatcher from childhood, she describes so well and so accurately Donahaye is not offering us a 'misery memoir' but she is trying to reverse a process which she calls "telling one story and erasing another".
Has she reached the point suggested by her title? It is hard to imagine that she would ever, could ever, cut Israel out of her life but: "My country is leaving me because its story is ceasing to exist, and because of what it has strangled out of existence. I grieve the loss, I grieve its departure from me, but it's a grief coloured darkly by shame."
Losing Israel by Jasmine Donahaye is published by Seren (£12.99 hardback).