Erin is about to depart to spend the summer with her best friend Eliza in Israel. Eliza, who has joint British/Israeli citizenship, is going to Israel to start her military service.
Before she leaves Erin is dragged by her mother to visit her grandfather Len, who lies ill in hospital. Erin is not close to him and remains distant and unmoved as he lies silently in a coma.
After the hospital visit Erin goes to Len's house with her mother Chris. Len and Chris clearly had a difficult relationship and she sets about clearing his house in a cold and practical manner. As they work through Len's possessions, Erin discovers a substantial diary of his time in Palestine (modern day Israel) immediately after the Second World War. Her mother seems ill at ease when the diary is found and quickly throws it away. But Erin disobeys her mother, smuggling the diary out of the house to read on the plane en route to Israel. As she does so, her grandfather's extraordinary past begins to unfold.
Len's story begins during the last days of the Second World War when, as a member of an advanced unit of British troops, he arrives at the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. There he is confronted with the horrors that lay within.
With these harrowing images still burning in his mind, Len - a sergeant in the Paratroop Regiment - is sent to Palestine, charged with keeping the peace between the Arab population and the Jews - many of whom are arriving by boat from post-Holocaust Europe. He feels an intense sympathy for the plight of these pitiful refugees and their desire for a place of sanctuary, a homeland. He expects that his peacekeeping duties will be a gentle conclusion to his bloody military career. But for Len and his friends the war is very far from over as they engage in a bloody battle with the Irgun, the underground militants determined to establish a homeland for the Jews at any cost.
Len joins his friend Corporal Jackie Clough at a hospitality club in Haifa where Jewish immigrants and soldiers mix socially. Jackie knows Len is shy with women and has invited him on a blind date with Clara - a friend of his girlfriend Ziphora. Both women are Jewish refugees, recently arrived from Germany. Clara explains to Len the role of Jewish women in these clubs is to socialise with soldiers and win the propaganda battle for a homeland. Len is disarmed by her wry honesty and accepts an invitation to tea to meet her father. When he visits, it is clear Clara is attracted to him but Len is suspicious about her father and wonders if he may be linked to the Irgun. He reports his concerns to senior officers. They see an opportunity in this soldier who has become friendly with Jews and engage him in a clumsy operation that leads to the shooting of an Irgun fighter. The inevitable Irgun retaliation results in a street battle in which four of Len's friends are killed. Angered by the British shooting of the Irgun member, Clara's father forbids Len to visit again but it is clear Clara herself wants the relationship to continue.
In modern day Israel, Erin continues to read Len's diaries as she settles into life in Haifa with Eliza's family. Max and Leah Meyer, Eliza's parents, are warm, welcoming and very well off. The pool and party lifestyle is great fun, until Erin suffers one of her periodic epileptic fits in a nightclub and is forced to spend the day recovering at the Meyers. She meets Eliza's older brother Paul who is very different from the rest of his family. Following his army service he has become intensely disillusioned with Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. He takes the politically naïve Erin to a meeting of Combatants for Peace - a group of former Arab and Israeli fighters. At the meeting, which takes place in the West Bank, Paul speaks on the platform alongside his friend Omar - an Arab living in Israel. Omar was once in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade but has renounced violence. Driving through a security check on the way home Omar is harassed by the Israeli guards and urges Paul and Erin to continue without him to avoid further trouble. Paul is furious but agrees. He goes with Erin to a café back in Haifa to calm down.
As they leave the café Paul discovers he has left his keys behind so Erin waits at the car while he fetches them. Something doesn't feel right to her and she starts to make her way towards the café. Suddenly it explodes into a ball of flames in front of her. Paul and the other café customers have fallen victim to a Palestinian suicide bomber.