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on 14 August 2006
Books on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict tend to reflect the prejudices of the author more than they show what actually occured. However this book, although not perfect, is the closest thing I have read to a balanced account of the conflict.

This book is a fairly comprehensive diplomatic summary of the conflict that covers the period before the foundation of the state of Israel through to the election of Ehud Barak as Isarel's prime minister. Shlaim is an Israeli-Jew who believes in a two state solution to the conflict, and this comes across in his writing. He criticises both Israel and the Arab states when they squandered opportunities to achieve the solution Shlaim would prefer to see.

There are books which focus on specific aspects of the conflict which are perhaps more useful to understanding the conflict than this, but this is probably the best account currently available which covers the all the Arab-Israeli wars. However while you should definitely read this book, there are a few things which you should be aware of.

This book is primarily a diplomatic history of Israel. This means it goes into great detail on Israel's foreign policy. This means that it can sometimes get bogged down in the details of negotiations. It also means that it focuses more on pre-war and post-war diplomacy more than on the actual wars themselves.

The books main flaw however is that it views the conflict largely based on Israel's viewpoint. Shlaim is sometimes supportive of Israel, and often critical, but his focus is generally Israel. Since this is a diplomatic history, and the Palestinians are without a state, they recieve little attention.

Due, perhaps, to his personal views on the best outcome of the conflict, Shlaim is not as critical as he should be of the Oslo process. He ends the book hopeful about the "peace process" and Barak, though subsequent events have showed this optimism to be misplaced.

However despite these complaints, this book is a must read. No one book is enough to understand the conflict, but this one is as good a starting point as you are likely to find.
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on 4 January 2004
Other reviewers have listed the strengths of this book so I will refrain from repeating their comments here. Suffice as to say Shlaim's research is impeccable and he challenges many myths central to the founding of the State of Israel and the claims of many 'mainsteam' Middle East commentaries. Particularly impressive are his early chapters dealing with the dispossession of the Palestinians and the lost diplomatic opportunities resulting from Isreal's 'iron wall' stance towards the Arab states.
However, where I would dissent from other reviewers is that I found the book's momentum became bogged down in the second half in a thicket of irrelevant detail. Every single diplomatic initiative and exchange, great and small, is described exhaustively. The most insignificant aspects of meetings are noted e.g. chapter 11 even describes the dining arrangements at a meeting attended by King Hussein of Jordan and Shimon Peres, and who did the washing up!. The upshot of all this pointless and tiresome clutter is that Schlaim's promised central narrative - the destructive consequences of the 'iron wall' doctrine of revisionist Zionism - gets lost along the way. This fine work of scholarship clearly would have benefited from improved editing. With footnotes it runs to over 640 pages.
Another major problem with the book is that its narrow diplomatic focus makes the Palestinians as 'a people', largely invisible players. Readers wanting a more rounded socio-economic approach, or one which deals with political events 'on the ground' would be advised to look to Edward Said, Ilan Pappe, Noam Chomsky or Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal's work.
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on 2 April 2001
A truly amasing book by a sincere objective and intellectually sound historian. Avi Shlaim succeeds where so many other authors on the subject have gone so tragically wrong.
He gives a sound, comprehensive analysis of the creation of the state of Israel within a historic and political context. But he goes further than that. He presents his views and criticises where necessary both the Israelite politicians and the state.
The use of language is understandable and simple. This enables the reader to focus on the content rather than the unneccessary long/complicated language used by many historians.
I recommend this book strongly to anyone who wants to find out more about Israel and the Arab World. Edward W. Said was absolutely right in saying that this book is a:
"A milestone in modern scholorship of the Middle East"
He couldnt have got it more right than this!!!
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on 1 July 2001
Avi Schlaim's 'The Iron Wall' traces the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the very birth of the Zionist movement to the present day. An incredibly honest, fair and detailed history of the conflict is brought to life through Schlaim's writing. Every Israeli and Arab should read this book to understand just how often their respective leaders have allowed blinding ideology and dogmatic nationalism stand in the way of peace in the region. This book turned every one of my personal preconception of the politics of the region on its head. If you are interested in reading your first book on the Israeli-Arab conflict, this surely must be the one. Ziad Nassar
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on 15 June 2009
Avi Shlaim has written a great book about the myths and realities of Israel's relationships with it's Arab neighbours governments.He's had access to many archives and shows that many mistakes were made by Israeli leaders in their analyses and responses to the Arab world.He also makes clear that crimes and mistakes were plentiful on bothe sides of the Arab-Israel dispute,there are no goodies or baddies in this history.
The strength of the book-the focus on diplomacy-is also it's weakness.As the Palestinians didn't have a government,and their organisations such as the PLO didn't have diplomatic ties with Israel till 1992,the first and most important casualties of the Arab-Israel conflict are largely invisible till the latter part of the book,ie until after 1970.
Still,well worth a read.
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on 1 May 2010
This book cannot be recommended too highly. Like all books on the State of Isreal it is bound to be judged by one's preconceptions on the validity of the State of Isreal. For a committed Zionist this will not be easy reading, and I have no doubt they will discount it as 'anti-Semitic' - the common rebuke for anyone who criticises Isreal's appalling conduct. The author has lived in Isreal and has served in their armed forces. He is also a superb writer, producing a book which although dense in facts remains very readable. His references are clearly given, and many are official documents from the time and personal interviews with the people involved. He outlines the history and politics of the State of Isreal from its conception to around 2000. It does not make easy reading, as they have clearly abused the international agencies, reneged on all their agreements, prevaricated while building up strength for further offencive actions. They have let down their friends and trampled upon all opposition, including their own politicians if they appear to be becoming too 'soft'. Should the author provide another update from 2000 to the present, I have no doubt that the situation will be seen to be worsening, with the utter horrors of the Gaza massacres and their continuation of evicting rightful owners from their property in Jerusalem and the occupied East Bank. It is also clearly a policy decision to accuse all detractors from their activities as being anti-Semitic. The world can only fear the likely outcome of their policy - one day some idiot will destroy the Dome on the Rock, and the whole world will be dragged into the chaos. Isreal's actions will lead to disaster. Please read this book - it will be the best thing you ever did. Dr Ian Poole
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on 28 May 2009
This is a clear but precise, well-written, interesting and (as far as anyone can be) unbiased history of the entire Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict from the first Zionist settlement in the British Mandate of Palestine to 1999.

In some chapters towards the middle of the book it goes into far too many small details though, which will probably make it much harder for other historians to criticise it, but made parts of the book very slow going for me.

Throughout most of the book Shlaim avoids any temptation to judge his own country's government on different standards from its opponents.

It only falls down (and only very slightly) in its coverage of the Labor government of Yitzakh Rabin and the election of the Barak government and becomes slightly distorted by the author's preference for the Labor party over Likud . However even here Shlaim presents the basic facts without fear or favour, only making his evaluation of Rabin's offer of Palestinian autonomy without real soveriegnty or a viable state more positive than it deserves to be.

Shlaim rightly condemns Peres' 'Operation Grapes of Wrath' as a moral, military and political failure (though a less ambiguous phrase would be 'war crime against civilians).

Despite these minor flaws i would recommend any book by Avi Shlaim to anyone wanting an interesting, well written and unbiased account of the Israel-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.
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on 9 November 2010
The Iron Wall is a thoroughly well researched and well written review of the history of relations between the relatively recent State of Israel and all her Arab neighbours. Published in 2000, a similarly readable book by Avi Shlaim of the last decade would be most welcome. Written by a Jew living and working in the UK, it is unbiased and very balanced. Having visited Israel/Palestine a number of times, I recommend it to my friends who want an honest overview of 20th century developments in the field of Arab/Israeli relations.
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on 5 March 2011
An excellent thoroughly readable account of events leading to the inception of the state of Israel and subsequent problems.I approached this from the standpoint of the general reader and now feel much better informed about the complexities of the issues involved in this chronically turbulent region. As a Jew who did national service in Israel the author does not shy away from criticism of the Zionist cause where he feels it appropriate. I highly recommend this book.
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on 17 June 2002
This book brings about the real story of the conflict in as much as for every action that one reads about in news, there are far more behind the scenes leading up to it. The same thing applies to reactions. The writer must be congratulated for also taking a far more humane view of the wheelings and dealings of Israeli politics. This is also a book about applied facts, along with human emotions, rather than scientific facts and figures alone which can be found elsewhere.
It is pityful to read such a book when one considers we elect politicans of the kind. Having read 6 books on the subject, as a concerned European I feel very dejected by all sides. Interestingly enough Ariel Sharon features very prominently in this book, even though it was written before his appointment as prime minister. To know that this book was out before the elections and to still vote for him shows the state of the region.
Once again, my highest rating for this book and its author for its depth of research and the strength to articulate as best it can the human feelings of the participants.
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