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Very disappointing attempt at a balanced view
on July 3, 2001
I picked up this book hoping to learn more about a subject of which I have very little understanding, but about which we all hear about on a daily basis on the news. I like to think that I came to the topic with very little bias, other than the semi-conscious bias that most westerners probably in viewing Israel as a bastion of western culture surrounded by arab muslim cultures.
I should say that I am glad I read this book. It gave a good background to the inception of Israel and the interworking of the mid 20th century colonial powers in the region. It also made it clear that Israel has frequently been the powerful aggressor in many instances, rather than a hopelessly outnumbered, embattled outpost. The Palestinians clearly have many legitimate grievances, and whatever anyone says about who is right and wrong in these things none of it can change the following historical fact: that Palestine/Israel started out as a small area in which Arabs were in a minority, Israel now occupies a much larger territory, has an overwhelmingly Jewish population, and a very large number of the Arabs who used to live there do not any more.
Other than giving me the above insights, the book was both disappointing and annoying. First, it is very poor history, and the fact that the author is a PSYCHOLOGIST, and that the book was "the product of research done in the context of a professional writing group that INCLUDED three history professors" should be a red flag to anyone looking for a proper historical analysis. I don't know how anyone can say it was well researched; based on the notes a huge proportion of the research was done based on three or four other books on the subject. For example in the Chapter on the Suez conflict, of 56 source notes, 38 go back to two books (Spiegel's, The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict, and Sachar's, A History of Israel). Virtually no primary source materials are used, and the book is full of judgmental quotes or quotations regarding the views of various statesmen, but they are really just passages from other history books, rather than statements attributable directly to players in the events. All very disappointing.
The annoying part is that as your read the book, the veneer of balance drops away, and it gradually becomes an "Israel bad, Palestinians/Arabs good" polemic disguised as history. I first clued into this when the author made special note of the fact that Israel's 1950 Law of Return providing worldwide Jewry with the right of abode in Israel Violates the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial discrimination. Taking into account that the convention was adopted 19 years later in 1969, and that no comparatives are given for any other country's compliance with the same convention, it is simply an idiotic thing to point out.
As the book progresses (or perhaps I just became more sensitive), it becomes more and more obvious Begin is described as a "terrorist" whereas Arafat is the head of a "guerrilla organization". The public statements made by Arabs are all taken at face value whereas those made by Israeli leaders are all exposed as lies. Syria has 35,000 troops in Lebanon, but was seeking a policy of trying to "preserve a military balance and political stability" in the country, whereas the Israelis were raping and pillaging for their own benefit. Lyndon Johnosn is "hair trigger". One Israeli leader is a "loose cannon". Etc. etc.
This is not to refute all of these views or the many terrible acts and policies attributed to the Israelis, only to say that the book's validity as a decent work of history is fatally compromised by such blatant one-sidedness.
In the end, while I am glad to have read the book, I would not recommend it.