on 18 August 2011
Tom Segev has written an impressive and extremely well researched account of the pivotal year in the modern history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Once again (as with the excellent 'One Palestine, Complete') he has presented as unbiased and objective account of this topic as you are likely to find. There is no agenda with Segev except well written history. The book covers in great detail the situation both within and without Israel in the years leading up to the Six Day War of 1967; the events and thoughts of those - both public and private individuals - in the period immediately before, during, and after the war; and the fascinating political and sociological implications of the aftermath of the war. Among the well-known leaders and politicians involved, there are numerous intriguing portraits of the likes of Levi Eshkol, David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Ezer Weizman, Menachem Begin, Lyndon Johnson, Abba Eban, Gamal Nasser and King Hussein - as well as many other key political, military and diplomatic aides and commanders.
The wide-ranging sources cited by Segev in this account are really the strength of the book. From LBJ's White House machinations to the minutes of the Israeli war cabinet, from myriad private letters of concerned citizens to the various press articles and columns of the day. There is an important consideration given also to the cultural atmosphere in Israeli society whether before, during or after the war. These give the book an intensity of 'putting you right there' in amongst the days of drama. Those less familiar with the personalities discussed may struggle to keep apace of the fast-moving developments and intricacies of both domestic Israeli politics and complex cold war era international relations - this is not 'an ideal introduction' to the Arab-Israeli conflict. But for the interested reader of this subject, Segev's thorough book will prove compelling, well-written, and will quite probably serve to present a perspective on the war that you may not have previously been privy to.
The chapters covering the action of the war itself are based simultaneously on the candid records of minutes and diaries of most of the principals involved, but most interestingly also include large extracts from the diary of one army reservist in particular called up weeks ahead of the conflict. This is Yeshayahu Bar-Dayan, and his diary provides a unique window into the mind of an everyday Israeli called on by his nation to do his duty. He is not a particularly gung-ho commando or special agent or anything as obvious or cliched as that, but a humble mechanic attached to a unit of the Tank Corps. His writing from the battlefield in Sinai is often at times both intimate and profound - an extremely valuable inclusion.
All told, this is an extremely good addition to the shelves of any reader with an interest in post-war 20th century history and/or the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a particularly in-depth look at the complex Israeli national psyche of the 1960s, and the war which still shapes the fierce debate of the still ongoing troubles in the Middle East. It is a superb addition to the work of one of the finest contemporary Israeli historians around.