on August 23, 1998
I tend towards books in the historical novel genre, and count among my favorite authors Herman Wouk and Leon Uris. "O Jerusalem!" was recommended to me by someone familiar with my interest in the history of Israel, and I was hesitant to read it at first, thinking that I didn't want to slog through some dry account of such a worthwhile topic.
Well, "dry" cannot be applied to any aspect of this book. Considering all of the college history books I've read, I think I can truly say that this is the best "true" historical telling of a topic that I've read...yet. The authors, in true journalistic form, did their research, and brought in those "human interest" aspects I so love in the historical novels. Their treatment of both the Arabs and the Jews is about as unbiased as one can be--I didn't see any blatant pandering to either side-- and felt that any (potentially) incindiary remarks were based wholly on historical track record (e.g., Arabs don't have a history--in Palestine--of cultivating the land, and this neglect is mentioned a few times). I recommend this book to anyone wishing for an in-depth (but not too technically deep!) look into the partition vote, the siege of Jerusalem, and the establishment of the State of Israel. ( As an aside: I'm not too interested in politics, but the political wrangling inherent in the entire partition process is quite fascinating. It goes to show that 'goodwill gestures' have about a million moving parts--not necessarily made out of love!).
on February 26, 2002
"O Jerusalem" is a classic. By focusing on one narrow yet vitally important aspect of the Arab-Jewish conflict surrounding the birth of Israel between WWII and 1948, the authors bring to life all the characters, good bad and neutral who played a role in the saga of Jerusalem. As readers of the book will discover, prior to 1948, Jerusalem was a city with a mixed Jewish-Arab population. The Arabs and Jews lived in relative harmony, sometimes in mixed neighborhoods. Under British rule, all religious groups had access to their own holy sights. The authors demonstrate how villaims like Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, a rabid anti-semite who spent WWII hiding from the British in Berlin, brought ruin to the Arabs of Jerusalem. Indeed, the Arabs come across as the ultimate victims, which they were. Their victimizers were not the Jews, however, but their fellow Arabs. Ultimately, war comes in 1948 and the Jews are victorious in establishing the state of Israel. Many Arab residents of Jerusalem are forced from their homes either by the Israeli Defense Force, fellow Arabs or their own fears. Most wind up in the part of the city that has come to be known as "East Jerusalem". The old city, including the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall is captured by Jordan and ALL Jews are expelled. The book describes in great detail, the tragic consequences of this conflict which was not wanted by the Jews, not wanted by their Arab neighbors but spurred on by interlopers like the Mufti, the British and many bad players fromt he Arab world like King Abdullah. It is a fair analysis. It does not make the Jews out to be saints nor does it portray all the Arabs as blood thirsty monsters. It lays blame where it belongs. Those pre-disposed to a revisionist view of Israel's birth will not appreciate this book because its fair analysis does not meet with revisionist ideology. But for anyone who wants to learn the truth about this conflict, this book is a must read.
on January 29, 2000
Authors Lapierre and Collins have written a wonderful account of the establishment of the State of Israel. They have talked to people on all sides of the problem (there were more than just two sides) and, although not impartial, the end result is as gripping as it is valid. I have said that the authors have not reached an impartial result, and by this I mean that they tilt towards the Israeli side. I do, too, to be honest. But Lapierre and Collins show a lot of professionalism and at least seek balance. I recommend this title to anyone interested in the Middle East conflict, together with Dan Kurzman's "Genesis 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War."
on January 12, 2007
Most people who have not made it their specific study are relatively unaware of the creation of the state of Israel. Fortunately, there is this excellent account of the birth of Israel and the war that followed. This book does have a number of flaws, but despite this should be read by anyone looking for a fair account of the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The book is the result of exhaustive research by two well respected authors including several hundred interviews conducted in the late 1960s. The focus of the book is at the micro level, the lives and experiences of common people who were swept up into the maelstrom of battle, but at the same time it does address the Macro considerations of the great leaders and powers. As such it contains an amazing caste of characters, mainly in their own words, from Jewish immigrants, to King Hussein of Jordan, to simple Arab villagers, to President Truman. Perhaps despite this, O' Jerusalem is a VERY readable book and a true page-turner.
The real failure of the book is that it was the product of its time. It was written shortly after the Six Day War in which Israel took on three of its neighbors and decisively defeated them. It was also long before the full implications of the refugee problem were known. As a result, it tends to paint the Israelis in a rather positive light. It leans ever so slightly in their favor on most questions. (more on this later)
That said, the authors made great efforts to be totally objective and exercised the greatest academic rigor. When there are contradicting versions of an event, they provide both versions with sane and level headed analysis. They restrict their information to primary sources rather than so many books now which use secondary or processed information. In some cases, they have found accounts from both sides of a single firefight in which the actions of one interviewee are remembered by a participant from the other side. It is an amazing feat of historiography.
There is also no effort to paint over the flaws and faults of either side. This is perfectly exemplified by the books treatment of the massacres of Dier Yassin (when about a hundred Arabs were murdered by the right wing Jewish Irgun and Stern Gang) and Kvar Etzion (When an approximately equal number of Jewish settlers were murdered by Arab Irregulars perhaps with the connivance of the Arab Legion). Both are honestly reported. When sources disagree, it is pointed out.
It is perhaps the best recommendation for this book that it will probably infuriate the "true believers" on both sides. Neither side turns out to be plaster saints or a pack of black devils. They are human. This makes this book one of two a person MUST read in order to understand the Middle East. The other FYI is "The Lemon Tree" by Tolan. That book leans rather hard towards the Arab viewpoint. Ideally read them together for an incredibly balanced version of events.
The founding of Israel was, depending on your point of view, an incredible miracle or an incredible "Al Nakba" Disaster. Both sides will agree however that it is an incredible story. This book is probably the best and most readable account of the incredible story that still affects the world in which we live even 60 years after the events it relates have transpired.
on November 23, 2001
Collins and Lapierre focus their book, O Jerusalem on one city in the years between World War II and the creation of the independent state of Israel, but, the story itself spans centuries and continents. This is a book about courage, terrorism, heroism, deprivation, politics, and, ultimately, war.
Concentrating their narrative on material gleaned from thousands of interviews, the authors intersperse personal histories-heroic, tragic, and sometimes even humorous-with public history to create an illuminating epic, part folk, part academic. Their emphasis on ordinary people reacting in ordinary ways to extraordinary events encourages the reader to empathize with characters on both sides of what was, and continues to be, a complex stuggle.
Collins and Lapierre allow the story to expand as they trace the roots of the conflict back into Biblical history and as the participants travel the post-WWII world, seeking weapons, political support and military solutions. However, no matter how far afield the story wanders, the authors always bring it back to its center, Jerusalem.
More than fifty years after the central events of this story, it is interesting and instructive for historians, amateur and professional, to review who was allied with whom in the Middle East of the 1940's and who provided the training, weapons, and support to which of the participants in the struggle. ... Although it does not provide the complete answer, it is an excellent place to begin the search.
on April 27, 2002
This book provides a detailed examination of the events surrounding the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. The story is told through the technique of alternating viewpoints from the the Arab and Jewish sides. The major players in this historical drama are made to breath because their characters are written about with the style of a great historical novel.
Absolutely essential reading for an understanding of the foundations of the current situation in the region.
The book shows two peoples who are both captive to historical and political forces that set them on a path toward beligerence with each other that seems today to have no end in sight.
Both bravery and brutality is displayed by each side as the struggle for control of Jerusalem develops.
What is especially disturbing is the inevitability of the conflict that was accepted by both sides from the very beginning. Reading this book now with the events of each day in the news sounding incredibly similar to those that took place in 1948 gives this history remarkable relevance and enabled me to synthesize what is occurring today into a broader historical context.
The book is well researched and documented and written in a brisk style that makes it difficult to put down. Highly recommended for a deeper understanding of a troubled region of the world.
Collins and Lapierre make an important and much needed contribution to a field often beset by propaganda masquerading as scholarship. In the place of such works of half-truth, these authors offer a crisply written and carefully researched history of Jerusalem, the eternal city. Instead of taking sides, as is so often the tendency when dealing with this subject, Collins and Lapierre give considerable attention and equal weight to all sides. The authors interviewed literally thousands of people in order to understand people's emotional attachment to this often fought for city. Using this research they then tell the epic tale of the modern quest to control it.
The book is both informative and riveting. Putting the facts before bias, they tell a story that needs to be told. I cannot recommend it enough.
on July 29, 2004
The subject of this book arise passions all around the world: the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. Since then controversy, war and a seeming endless conflict between Jews and Arabs rage unquenched.
Any text approaching these events will be immediately scrutinized and criticized by confronting parties.
The authors are not rookies; they have a well earned reputation thru their previous book "Is Paris Burning?" (1965). They apply the technique of interviewing key witness, ranging from public figures to almost unknown particulars. All of them have their saying and express their viewpoints unrestricted.
Collins and Lapierre take this huge mass of information to produce a coherent, ordered, dynamic and griping story. At the same time they managed to keep the balance without avoiding sore spots.
This is an informative book commendable for anyone who is interested in Near East history. You may start from here and proceed afterwards with more partisan essays, giving them credit as it suits to your particular beliefs.
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
on July 3, 1996
This unbiased account of the siege of Jerusalem during the
1948 Israeli War of Independence, told through the eyes of
both Jew and Arab alike, offers a unique opportunity to
understanding the complex situation which currently exists
in the Middle East. Written by the reknound journalists,
Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre, this book takes us on
a meandering journey in and out of the lives of the men and
women who fought, lived, loved and died protecting or
defending their city. Dozens of simple stories,
documenting the lives of ordinary people and statesmen
alike, offer a haunting glimpse into this not so
distant but dramatic past. A must for anyone wanting to
gain a deeper understanding into today's conflict, or
explore this time of struggle, birth and death of two
nations, two peoples.
on September 3, 1998
One can nitpick -- vague timelines, some wrong presumptions -- but one cannot deny that this is a book which is long on fact and even longer on good storytelling. The authors have the usual "orientalist" anti-Arabism in the style of the book -- Arabs "swarm" and do "frenzied" things and are compared to locusts traveling at one point. The authors maintain a Labor Zionist emphasis, e.g. the Irgun and Lehi Zionists are called terrorists (please let the reader decide!) and it is clear that the LAbor Zionists are getting "home team" coverage, but the authors do not suppress certain facts, e.g. they do dispute as a result of their investigation the old (and today discarded) contention that Arabs fled as a result of an evacuation policy by Arab leaders and state more accurately that Arabs fled form fear of war, terroristic violence and forced expulsion. It also looks as if they talked to everyone, Jewish, Arab, and British who was there. A classic of popular history, by no means the last word, but certainly one of the best.