ITT OFF THY SHOES, by Elizabeth Hamilton (Andre Deutsch, 16s.)
" pUT Off Thy Shoes " is an
I intimate, moving and personal account by a master of Evocative description of " A Journey to Israel and Jordan' -the Palestine that was and the Holy Land that is: the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But how sadly different. except for that basic claim in the words of the Lord to Moses: " Put off thy shoes from thy feet for the place where on thou standest is holy ground." is the Holy land of today; an unholy welter of tribes and peoples, nations new and old, warring policies. politics, and ideologies, bitterness, bloodshed and "refugees". For Israel, in particular, and Jordan are not now the Holy Land of even 30 years ago. 'then it was chiefly the land of the story of God's direct dealings with man and with His moving among them. Then it was the land where the chief and chronic scandal was the irremediable and bitter division between Christians themselves. and the calm acceptance of a false worship of the One True God. Then it was a land in which the muezzin called from the minarets in the Holy City of Jerusalem and David's city of Bethlehem: " Allahu akhar ashadan la ilaha Wallah ...." and Copts, Armenians. Orthodox, Catholics and others carried on a perpetual cold war to hold and retain their " claims " to Christian Holy Places. But still the land was a holy land. given over chiefly to the worship of God by Christian. Mohammedan, and the Jew at his "Wailing Wall."
NOW this same land is. in part, the National Home of the Jews, the refuge of that horror, the Liberal Rationalist Atheistic Jew, the land in which the most progressive and remarkable work has been done in those settlements. Kibbutzim of European intellectuals who care neither for God nor the Sabbath.
And in Israel and Jordan and adjacent lands, the cancer of Communism • atheistic and God
deriding gains more and more secret admirers and open adherents. So the author is told: " Nazareth
. . a shabby place, behind the times. riddled with Communism.
The very success of the authoi in presenting so vividly, so realistically, the neon-lighted progress and culture of such modern Israeli cities as Tel Aviv brings into relief the " sadness of things the basic, elemental lacrimae rerion in the Holy Land today.
There arc many books old and new on Palestine and the Holy Land. and many studies of modern Israel; hut no one hook. that I know of, has presented the whole sad picture of Palestine and all its problems as effectively as this book by Elizabeth Hamilton,
THERE is no aspect of modern Palestine and Jordan that the author is content to pass over and her book gains in its fundamental appeal by her wide knowledge of its classical antiquities: Ashkalon, Caesarea. and Petra. Few modern writers have such wide and varied reading as Miss Hamilton; she uses it well, and it is pleasant to be reminded of Pierre Loti, for instance.
Then there are her sympathetic and convincing studies of the settlements. making the desert flower again, where a rifle is as much a " field " tool as a spade. Equally on the other side, the horror of the " refugee " camps for the thousands of forcibly dispossessed. But. as her title suggests, the pervading and fundamental interest is in the Holy Land, where the Son of God was conceived, born. taught, died. rose again and founded His Church. Here, her touch is unfailingly sure.
There are no arguments about depths. heights. levels, no nonsense about: " What's on this marble slab." She accepts, as all sensible people must, the substantial. incontrovertible, traditional fact and surrenders to the spiritual power of the place: so this is no mere travel
book. It is a record of a pilgrimage to the greatest place of pilgrimage in the world the one little area of the world which still deserves to be called the Holy land.