on 2 January 1999
What a magnificent work of scholarship. For people such as myself, who are only remotely familiar with the circumstances leading to the rise of the Zionist movement and to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, this is such rewarding book. Sachar's approach to his subject is quite astounding. Not only does he trace the political and social evolution of the country in a sober and even-handed way, but he provides a lucid exposition of the military conflicts and turbulent irruptions that have plagued the country since the early twentieth century. The duplicity and nervous diplomacy of the superpowers in dealing with Israel are also brought to light. Moreover, the rise of the PLO and PFLP are discussed, along with some of the other popular Arab movements, in a very incisive and fair manner. The writing style is quite eloquent, and the topics discussed are so diverse and interesting that the prose doesn't drag along, as one might expect from such a thick and heavy tome. The book is provided with a vast array of military, demographic and municipal maps, which make some of the historical incidents easier to follow. My only suggestion for any subsequent editions is that the book be provided with an insert of illustrations, depicting some of visual arts and archaeological sites that Sachar discusses, along with photographs of some of the important political figures mentioned in the text.
on 28 June 2011
Professor Zachar's book commences with Napoleon meeting the French Jewish community's leaders,and ends with the death of Yitzhak Rabin."Comprehensive" is putting it mildly
The early chapters,which spell out the beginings of modern Zionism,mostly in eastern Europe,are great-I knew very little about this prior to reading the book.It then goes on to the begining of the Zionist settlements in the late 19th century and tells the story of both the Jewish and Palestinian communities very well from there onwards.
Two themes mark out Zachar's book from other histories.One is his stress on the role of circumstance,chance and luck in the intertwined histories of the Jews and Palestinians.The idea that there was (or is) some monolithic conspiracy dedicated to doing down either the Jews or the Palestinians is shown to be nonsense.Zachar shows that with just slight differences-slightly higher or lower Jewish immigartion,a more cohesive Palestinian leadership at crucial times,fewer Palestinians fleeing after 1948,a less pro-Israeli US Jewish leadership-it could all have turned out completely differently.
Another is that Zachar investigates and writes about the problems of Palestinians or Israeli Arabs or whatever they like to call themselves,who stayed in Israel after 1948.These people are usually conspicuous by their absence in standard histories of Israel.Zachar redresses the balance here.
Overall,very well written,accurate and(mostly)objective.Recommended.
on 4 June 2008
It is very difficult to accurately and comprehensively analyse this work.
The fact is that Sachar go's out of his way to be even-handed, which leads to a dilemma in itself.
The truth is that one cannot be objective in a conflict where it is clear to any fair-minded and honest observer who the agressors are and always have been: The Jews peacefully returned to their ancient land, and for nearly a century the Arabs have been trying to drive them into the sea.
There are times when I am uncomfortable with the author's particularly unfair treatment of the Jewish freedom fighters- the Irgun and Lechi- whom he labels as 'terrorists'.
At the same time, he honestly appraises the history of the situation as he see's it, and does not like the malevolent 'new historians' and revisionists, like Chomsky, Finkelstein, Said, Lenni Brenner and Israel Shahak, go back and rewrite history to suit their own destructive and malicious agenda against Israel.
This is an honest appraisal, in which the author strives to be fair.
Though his commentary is not always to my liking, he sticks to the facts, except in cases like the so-called massacre of Deir Yassin, where he has accepted the 'official' version' of events, despite clear evidence that there had been no deliberate killing of Arab civillians by the Jews.
The author begins by outlining the beginnings of the Zionist movement, the work of pioneers such as Moshe Hess, Leo Pinsker, Moses Montefiore, Achad Ha'am, Theodore Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and Vladimir Jabotinsky. He describes their strugles to adapt to harsh terrain, in the land which had flourished two thousand years before, when their ancestors lived there.
He describes how sucessive waves of Jews returning to the Land of Israel, struggled to adapt, often, to the homeland that was being restored.
He writes of the purchase by the Jews from Arab absentee landlords. The book describes the revival of the Hebrew language, thanks to the efforts of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and of the the long tradition of discrimination and dhimmni status of the Jews, in the Holy Land, and Arab countries under Islamic domination.
We learn of the origins of Communist hostility to Zionism and the Israeli people, of the originally warm attitude to Zionism by forward thinking Arab leaders such as King Feisal of Syria, and the bloody pogroms by Arabs on Jewish communities in the Land of Israel in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936-1939.
The truth is that a very large part of the Arab hostility to Zionism, and the returning Jews originated in the fear among the Arab aristocracy in the Holy Land, and elsewhere in neighbouring lands, that the egalitarian spirit of the Jews, the democracy and emphasis, on social justice and democracy would influence the Arab masses, and therefore threaten the powerbases of the Arab elites.
We read of Hitler's ally and Jew-hater Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini, one of the original founders of Islamic jihad against the Jewish people, and his impassioned preaching of venom and genocide against the Jews.
Much of the Arab hostility and agression towards the Jews of the then named 'Palestine' was encouraged by intense propaganda directed at the Arabs by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, this at a time when hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees where fleeing from Nazi Germany to the Holy Land.
The book also highlights the Balfour Declaration and how the British later reneged, under Arab pressure, on the promises to the Jewish people of restoration to their ancient land.
Many of the British actively assited the Arabs against the Jews, and the British blocked the netry of hundreds of thousands of Jews, attempting to enter 'Palestine' as an escape from Hitler's infernos.
The book discusses the persecution of Jews in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, and their mass expulsion from these countries after they fled from the Arab states, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs from the countries they had lived in for centuries.
The book describes the miraculous survival of the Jews of Israel, during the Second World War, and their victories against overwhelming odds in the War of Independence, the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
The book describes how before the Six Day War, the Arabs had surrounded Israel ,and openly issued hideous threats of genocide against all the Jews of Israel, forcing Israel to fire the first shots in order to survive(after Nasser had closed the Straights of Tiran) , and of the decades of infiltrations into Israel of marauding Arab terror bands killing Israeli men, women and children, including the massacres of Jewish children at Kiryat Shmona and Ma'alot, by the terrorists of the 'Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine'. And we also read of the cowardly attack by Arab states on Israel, that started the Yom Kippur War, and the unpreparedness of Israel's leadership that was scared to strike first for fear of upsetting world opinion.
This was a tragic mistake that imperilled the Israeli nation, and led to many unnecesary deaths of Israelis.
The book also describes the other triumphs of Israel: the absorbtion of millions of Jews, the struggles of the Oriental Jews (Jews from North Africa and the Middle East)for equality, the admirable building up of Israel's welfare state, and the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann in the early 1960's.
He also reflect on the conflicts within Israeli society and, contrary to the allegations by an earlier reviewer, focuses much on the issues of Israeli Arabs.
The trial of Eichmann brought home the horrors of the holocaust, and the lessons derived by the holocaust, by emphasizing the dangers inherent towards a Jewish minority living among a non-Jewish majority, and the need for an ingathering of Jews from all parts of the world in a homeland of their own.
During a break in the court sessions of Israel's thirteenth Independence day, David Ben-Gurion referred to the Eichmnn trial in a speech:
"Here for the first time in Jewish history, historical justice is being done by the sovereign Jewish people. For many generations it was we who suffered, who were tortured, who were killed-and were judged...for the first time, Israel is judging the killers of the Jewish people...and let us bear in mind that only the independence of Israel could create the necesary conditions for the historic act of justice".
Never again can catastrophy allowed to overtake the Jewish people, and the Jewish people subjected to genocide, especially not in their own homeland.
In a hostile world, much of which wants Israel destroyed, Israel must and will survive...with the help of the Allmighty.