6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know"...,
This review is from: The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East (Paperback)
... is a quote from Harry Truman, and was chosen by Stephen Kinzer as the lead epigraph in his excellent book All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which also bills itself as an examination of the roots of violence in the Middle East. The same epigraph could have been used with equal merit in this seminal book on one of the world's seemingly most intractable conflicts: the Israeli-Palestinian one. As Aeschylus famously said, "In war, truth is the first casualty." Given the length of time of this struggle, and the deep-seated sense of right and wrong on each side, truth has taken many a hit. No one person could be considered the custodian of objective truth, the slipperiest of concepts, though that never stops many from trying. David Hirst, a British journalist, provides a valuable antidote to the myths and legends constructed by sins of omission and commission, in the historical record. Americans, in particular, would greatly benefit from his book since their outlook on many problems in the Middle East is at sharp variance with the rest of the world. Much of that variance can be attributed to the American media filter that sorts out the facts and opinions related to this region. To cite a couple of examples drawn from this book. The "All the News that's Fit to Print" newspaper commissioned a review of this book and when it proved to be "...a favorable, indeed enthusiastic review... it was withdrawn by order from on high" (p 5.) Hirst meticulously footnotes his assertions, and the footnote for this one names his source, and the specifics about the suppression of the review. Why do Europeans have different perceptions of the Middle East conflicts that do Americans? Consider the following headlines concerning the killing of a 12 year old boy, Muhammad al-Durra, which was filmed by the French TV station, Canal Plus: In the London "Guardian" the headline read: "Israel Washes Its Hands of Boy's Death." In the "New York Times" the headline read: Israeli Army Says Palestinians May Have Shot Gaza Boy."
This book was first published in 1978, with a revised version updating the conflict through 1984. This version is a further update, almost a book in itself, of 100 pages at the beginning, and carries the history through 2003. In the update, the author covers the American - Israeli relationship, though not in the detail that would subsequently be accomplished in The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, he debunks the work of Joan Peters who attempts to provide a scholarly underpinning for numerous Zionist myths and most importantly, he highlights the work of some of Israeli's so-called New Historians who likewise debunk some of the myths surrounding the creation of Israel. In the updated portion Hirst goes on to examine the peace process, the Oslo accords, and the provocations on Temple Mount that led to the second Intifada. He devotes a large section on the nature of the American support for Israel, and details the growth of Jewish dissent for this effort. After 9/11, Hirst says that America adopts Israel's enemies as its own, and ends with a plea to save Israel from its "nuclear-crazy" self, a plea that is finding increased resonance with American pundits and columnists who cannot relate to the growing influence of the Jewish fundamentalist / settler movement over the Israeli government.
His original book starts on page 135, in the 1880's, when Theodore Herzl formulated the ideology of Zionism. The author covers in detail the subsequent growth of the ideology, the selection of Palestine as the "homeland for the Jewish people," (there were other alternatives!), the Balfour Declaration, and on through the settlement of Palestine in the `20's and `30's. One of the reasons that Hirst's book does not receive favor in some circles in America is his documentation of the terrorist roots of at least three Israeli Prime Ministers, from Menachim Begin and Yitzhak Shamir through Ariel Sharon. This includes the assassination of the UN mediator, Count Bernadotte, in 1948, the bombing of the King David hotel, the massacre at Deir Yassin, and on through the death squads that Sharon ran in Gaza, and much else. Certainly one of the strengths of this work is Hirst's use of Israeli and Jewish sources to make his points. Americans could obtain a much better understanding of this conflict simply by reading Israeli's own newspaper, Haaretz, rather than many of the American sources that airbrush out all too many inconvenient facts.
Normally I mark passages in books that I consider to be particularly relevant or well written, bon mots even. In this book, virtually every page is marked. Considering only one, Hirst highlights how the prime settler organization, Gush Emunim, in 1978, in their "Master Plan for the Development of Settlement in Judea and Samaria" (yes, the West Bank) that "....there mustn't be even the shadow of a doubt about our intention to keep the territories of Judea and Samaria for good." Fittingly, Hirst ends this account with the murder of Emil Grunzweig, a Jewish activist in the Peace Now movement, during a demonstration protesting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the subsequent murders in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila. Concerning Grunzweig's murder, Hirst quotes from the Israeli newspaper, "Davar": "The hands were those of the person who threw the grenade, but the voice belongs to Ariel Sharon who, by hateful pronouncements of demagogy, allowed his followers to stir themselves up to the brink of civil war."
A lucid, well-referenced account of one of the world's primal conflicts. An essential 5-star plus read.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on August 30, 2010)