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Superbly presented historical research.
on 19 September 2003
Drawing on his vast experience of this subject Sir Martin Gilbert has documented a superlative history of Israel which is extremely thorough and accurate.
This study surveys in some detail the first 50 years of Israel's history following the nation's re-birth in 1948. The book also tells of the involvement of the nation's pioneers and founders extending back into the latter half of the nineteenth century, together with many stories pertaining to the individuals who contributed to the re-birth of the Jewish state and to it's very survival during the ensuing conflicts.
The book begins with a chapter entitled "Ideals For Statehood" and describes how, since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70AD, Jews dispersed throughout the World have prayed for a return to Zion. "Next Year in Jerusalem" being the hope expressed at the end of every Passover meal. Later in the book the incredible hostility towards such Zionism is addressed.
The book initially describes the "considerable Jewish activity in Palestine" as the nineteenth century came to an end and extends to the Balfour Declaration and the work towards a Jewish homeland in Palestine that the latter promised. Unfortunately the book lacks any appropriate or real attention to the creation of the state of Transjordan in 1922 and how this affected the eventual rebirth of Israel. An issue where Britain detached 78% of the original area of Mandate Palestine to create another Arab entity in order to satisfy Arab aspirations for independence. This area east of the Jordan was thereafter called Trans-Jordan, and remained legally part of the British Mandate until 1946, when it was declared an independent Arab state, renamed Jordan in 1953. (Jordan then comprising 78% of Mandate Palestine with the vast majority of Jordanians being Palestinians.). The latter, although not discussed in detail here is evident from the contents of the book. Maps illustrating the issue further.
The book on page 37 reveals that the potential of the land following the First World War, (on which fewer than a million people were living on both sides of the Jordan), was regarded as enormous. The reader is shown how less than 10 per cent of the land was actually under cultivation at that time with no Arab needing to be dispossessed, or their rights infringed, for the "Zionists" to make substantial land purchases. The considerable Jewish population already in the land is also mentioned, together with reference to the Arab violence against these Jewish populations even in 1919. Coverage also being given to the increase of this violence through the ensuing decades as Jewish immigration increased with any attempt to reassure or compromise with resident Arabs being rejected. Violence, riots and Arab general strikes described as attempts to stop any influx of Jews to their ancient homeland.
The contents further describing how the rise of Hitler to power in Germany during 1933 affected the situation pertaining to Jewish immigration and the relationship on the ground between Arabs and Jews. The actions of the occupying British forces described as they enforced declared strict quota restrictions on Jewish immigration, even in the face of Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. This whilst illegal Arab immigration from surrounding areas was allowed to proceed unhindered.
The British action restricting immigration by Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Europe is described as a continuing priority even after the war's end in 1945, with imprisonment being afforded those captured in British "detention camps" on Cyprus. Some 50,000 Jews being imprisoned in this manner. From here the conflict in the land is described in some detail until the declaration of independence by the Jewish State of Israel in May 1948. This is followed by a commendable coverage of the ensuing "War Of Independence" during which surrounding Arab nations sought to eradicate the Jewish State by all military means at their disposal.
The ingathering of Jewish exiles to the newly born Jewish State is documented, as is the Suez conflict and events leading up to the Six Day War in 1967. Continuing acts of violence by Arabs against the Jewish population during these periods are also covered, including the formation in 1964 of the "Palestine Liberation Organisation". Another organisation is described as being formed in 1965, whose leader was Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat). The group being Fatah, and it's goal the "national liberation of Palestine". All this whilst the Gaza Strip and the "West Bank" were in Arab hands, occupied by the Arab nations of Egypt and Jordan.
Respectable coverage is also given to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, amid the seeming impotence or unwillingness of the UN to intervene, plus the political susceptibility of the World to an Arab oil boycott. A conflict which the book describes as showing the growing independence of Israel upon the USA.
Increasing Palestinian terrorism is described in the context of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon during 1982, again with credible coverage. The study extending to include the Oslo Accords and the present "peace process", together with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
Numerous photographs are provided, together with a large selection of maps which are relevant to the major issues surrounding the history of the Jewish state. An invaluable piece of historical research and an excellent addition to anyone's library. I would also recommend reading "From Time Immemorial; Origins of the Jewish-Arab Conflict Over Palestine" by Joan Peters.