on June 8, 2007
I read Tom Segev's book on Mandatory Palestine in the original Hebrew, so I cannot tell you how well it translates to English or to what extent the translation reflects the source. But Segev's book is a lively, if not coherent enough, description of Israel's rise and the British role in it.
Segev's book is well written and deeply humane, reflecting the lives and times of ordinary (and extraordinary) people in Palestine and Britain. That said, the book has considerable weaknesses: It does not properly introduce to us the main protagonists, whether Ben Gurion, The Mufti Al Husseini, Balfour, or any other major personality. The focus is squarely on the Jews and British; the account of the Arabs is largely unsatisfactory; and while I can't quite prove it, I feel that Segev pushes his overarching thesis a little further than the evidence actually goes.
I am unconvinced, for example, that the main or only causes for the British pro-Zionist stand, particularly the Balfour Declaration, has been the British delusions of Jewish world-dominating power and the personal charisma of Chaim Weismann. Standard accounts (such as David Fromkin's masterpiece A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East) emphasize the role of Zionism as a bulwark against French Middle Eastern ambitions, but for Segev this was a minor concern at most.
As Segev tells it, the story of Palestine under the British mandate is the story of one National movement, supported by the British Overlords, overwhelming its rival for the land. But Segev does not meditate on the emergence of a separate Palestinian nationhood - when did it really, finally appear? The question of when a separate Palestinian nationhood emerged is significant in at least two ways:
First, before a Palestinian nation existed, it was unlikely that Palestinians could offer serious resistance to Israeli Jews. Thus if Palestinian nationhood was only consolidated in the late 1920s or early 1930s, there were no prospects for One Palestine, complete and dominated by Arabs. To be effective, Palestinian resistance had to be massive and early. By the mid 1930s, the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine was a foregone conclusion. The only questions were its boundaries and the amount of bloodshed it would take to establish it.
Second, the question is relevant for assessing to what extent immigrating Jews realized that the dream of a Jewish State meant the inevitable destruction of a Palestinian nation. The fact that, contrary to Zionist Propaganda, Zionism did not involve sending a "People without a country to a country without people" was deeply troubling to the emergent Jewish Nation. It considered itself a European state committed to European values of human rights and democracy, and yet it fostered a program that led to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
No wonder Jews tended to brush the question aside! Pretending that there was no Palestinian Nation allowed them to focus on the economic benefits the Arabs in Palestine would get from the Zionist program, and to patronizingly see themselves as bringing superior European culture to the natives.
Segev's account convinced me that to the extent that Jews believed that, they did so recklessly, by willingly blinding themselves to reality. Haim Weizmann "determined" that there was no Palestinian nation by fiat (p. 95). He made no attempt to actually study the question.
Ben Gurion had been more far sighted, honest, and cruel: "everyone sees a difficulty in the question of the relationship between the Jews and the Arabs" he said "Yet not everyone realizes that it has no solution. No solution! There is an Abyss and nothing can bridge it. The conflict between the Interests of the Jews and Arabs in Israel cannot be solved by Sophism... there is a national question: We want the land for ourselves as a people, and the Arabs want it for themselves" (p.100).
It seems that the Jews knew, or should have known, what the consequences of their project were. And yet, is it fair to fully condemn them?
First, Jews were not alone in failing to completely realize the inevitability of the Conflict. Most of the world's statesman did, including David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. From their perspective, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire opened endless new opportunities in the Middle East. That there would be a piece of it for the Jews may not have seemed too outlandish; Even Hashemite King Feisal had agreed.
Second, there is the Holocaust. The establishment of a Jewish Settlement in Palestine undoubtedly saved hundreds of thousands of innocent people from Nazi extermination.
We've covered the British and the Jews. But what about the Arabs? Why did they not seek accommodation with the Jews? The Palestinians were facing a better organized, better led, better armed national movement. If Segev is right, they had to face the British, biased, pro-Israeli referees. How did they fail to realize the inevitable consequences of their refusal to compromise? A Palestinian acceptance of the Peel Commission report and the partition of Palestine in 1937 would have given the Palestinian a homeland in most of Palestine. The rejection of the partition plan led to the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, and to the Palestinian `Nakba' - the disaster, namely the flood of some 750,000 refugees from mandatory Palestine (p. 412). Who was responsible for the failure of leadership? Segev, the British, and Arabs themselves frequently compared the situation in Palestine with the situation in Ireland. But the Irish question ended in compromise. Where was the Palestinian Michael Collins?
Segev's book is silent about this question. His masterly (if incomplete) account of the early years of the mandate loses steam at the outbreak of the Second World War. The interpretive approach clearly breaks down - by 1940, it was by no means clear that the British were pro-Zionists in any real sense. New passions have steered, new questions raised: and for all its strengths, Segev's book doesn't answer them.
on December 24, 2001
`One Palestine, Complete' is a brilliant piece of history and a very depressing book. Author Tom Segev is a columnist for Ha'aretz and a resident of Jerusalem, intimately acquainted with his topic. Segev effectively combines anecdote, a gift for striking quotes, excellent research and a broad historical vision into this amazingly informative volume about the 31 years of British rule. As Benny Morris has stated: "He treats the Mandate period as a novel."
The overwhelming image of the British mandate is that of parents trying to keep peace between their two children, their favored eldest son and his younger brother ... The parents tried and tried to get the kids to stop misbehaving -- and eventually gave up.
Many of us seem to have forgotten that Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire until a short 84 years ago! In fact, the British controlled this region for only three decades, from 1917 until 1948. This book is the story of those years. Among the horrors covered in this tome are: the Nebi Musa rampage of 1920, the Jaffa riot of 1921, the Jerusalem riot of 1929, the riots of 1933, and the Arab Rebellion of 1936-39. Segev's traces their origins, but even more chillingly, describes how they unfolded, event-by-event and horror-by-horror. Early Arab atrocities insured that many Jews would never trust their Arab neighbors.
Segev clearly distinguishes Zionism and Judaism. He reminds us that "much of the pre-Zionist Jewish population - that is, those who lived in Palestine before the 1880s - were ultra-Orthodox. They were deeply hostile to the notion of secular Jewish autonomy in the Holy Land, which, according to religious doctrine, would be redeemed only through divine intervention in the messianic age. To the traditional Jewish population was sacrilegious." [p. 14] Segev shows how this caused problems for the early Zionists, Ashkenazi upstart socialists scorned by the religious. Under the `chalukkah' system, the Diaspora supported pious Jews in Palestine. In return they studied the Torah and prayed on behalf of Jews worldwide; the ultra-Orthodox saw no need for change.
Segev establishes that even from the turn of the century relations between European Zionists and native Palestinian Arabs were bad. Regarding the `land issue', he points out that most people were tenant farmers on lands they did not own. He quotes Chaim Margalit Kalvarisky, a Polish-born agronomist whose job included purchasing land for the Jewish Colonization Association: "After the first purchase of land I made here I had to dispossess the Arab residents of their land for the purpose of settling our brothers.... They sang songs of mourning for their bad fortune, which forced them to leave the cradle of their birth. Those songs cut through my heart and I realized how tied the Bedouin is to his land." Segev quotes the words of British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour: "Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land." (At the time, only about 10 per cent of the population was Jewish). [p. 45]
There are a lot of surprises in this book. For instance, an interesting proposal that never went anywhere in 1922 was that the United States (!) take control over Palestine from the British. A publication from the Zionist Organization in London opposed the proposal on the basis that "if the crude arithmetical conception of democracy were to be applied now or at some early stage in the future to Palestinian condition, the majority that would rule would be an Arab majority..." [p.119]. Segev puts to rest some myths, among others, that emigration to Palestine could have saved the doomed masses of Europe during the 1940s [p.461]. And, of course, the author reminds us of `the Uganda proposal', of 1903 [p. 36], which suggested a homeland in Africa, and which almost cost Theodor Herzl his position in the Zionist movement.
There is some humor here, too. Segev describes early Zionist Commission meetings being held in a mish-mash of Yiddish, German and English, and David Ben-Gurion griping that `people walk around the country and don't even know its language'. [p. 99] A footnote mentions that pioneer Zionist Theodor Herzl did not know Hebrew: "Who of us knows Hebrew well enough to ask for a train ticket in that language", he complains.
Segev describes internal divisions in both Jewish and Arab camps and shows how these drove events. On the Jewish side, he details the bitter rivalry between Ben-Gurion's Labor movement) and Jabotinsky's Revisionists. The author quotes David Ben-Gurion describing Etzel (Irgun) as "a Nazi gang" [p.471], labeling Jabotinsky as "the Fascist Satan", and calling Menachem Begin "the fuehrer". On the Arab side, the Nashashibi and Husseini clans matched the factionalism of their Jewish opponents, though with less colorful language.
I was surprised to find how many dubious Israeli practices grew from British models. Sir Charles Tegert, brought in during the Arab Rebellion (1936-1939) was merciless. Segev writes: "At times the [British] army would enter a village and stay there for several months... As part of the counter terrorism campaign, the authorities also destroyed houses. [p. 423]" Also, he describes the origin of the theory of collective punishment. "The laws and regulations under which the [British] authorities conducted their counter terrorism operations placed responsibility for crimes on the entire community ... everyone was to be punished." Under Tegert, "Soldiers who were tried for abuse and even murder of civilians were given extremely light sentences." [p. 425]. And Tegert "established a special center in Jerusalem to train interrogators in torture". (Jerusalem police chief Douglas Duff even describes torture methods he employed in his memoirs!)
Though depressing, I read this work through twice, the second time underlining as I went. This is that kind of history - often unpleasant but ultimately fascinating.
on November 13, 2000
Although Segev does not touch on the recent turbulence in the Mid-East, it all seems relevant. We've become accustomed to one view of Israel's history, and he shows us a new perspective. Most people believe that Israel would not have gained statehood without the Holocaust, but Segev points out that a move toward this was well on its way well before this, and that the Holocaust was actually a setback, depriving Israel of the settlers it needed to establish itself. He also has great, gossipy stories so that it's a surprisingly fast read, despite the heft of the book.
on April 5, 2003
This is a colorful montage of various people's experiences under the British Mandate. Lots of intriguing characters and entertaining stories. The unpublished letters and journals Segev draws on, as well as published memoirs, are mostly by relatively obscure Arabs, Jews, and Brits--and this is the book's greatest strength.
But you'll have to look elsewhere if you're interested in a competent description and analysis of British rule. Segev apparently couldn't be bothered to do much background reading on British politics. When he strays from his diaries and memories, he blunders repeatedly. Lloyd George, he writes, was an "Englishman" who was "elected prime minister" in Dec. 1916. (L.G. was Welsh and there were no elections between 1910 and 1918.) Herbert Samuel, when he went into politics, "joined Lloyd George's Liberal Party"--two decades before any such entity existed.
There are a great number of other trivial mistakes, but more disturbing is Segev's persistent, if low-key, anti-Zionism. This is particularly evident in his treatment of Arab attacks on Jews. To take only the first, at Tel Hai on March 1, 1920, Segev concludes, without any evidence, that the Jews may have opened fire, and w/o provocation. He then starts referring to the "myth" of Tel Hai, as if the shootings were a figment of Zionist imagination. (He meanwhile accepts uncritically the myth of "the Arab Revolt" during WW I, discredited for decades.) Segev's treatment of subsequent violence is even more distorted. The role of the Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al Husseini, is suppressed and, in the case of the Arab Rebellion of 1936-8, the focus is almost entirely on British countermeasures rather than the terror that inspired them.
But the book's claim to fame is its argument that the British were pro-Zionist because they feared the Jews. In a volume of about 600 pp., the evidence for this consists of four or five scattered, out-of-context quotations, and a distorted interpretation of Prime Minister MacDonald's "Black Letter" of 1931. Conspiracy theories about Jews circulated widely in the '20s (thanks to the success of the Bolsheviks) and Zionist spokesman Chaim Weitzman always emphasized the clout of U.S. Jews, but Segev simply never makes his case.
As for the claim that the British running the Mandate were pro-Zionist, Segev quietly abandons this. He himself provides a mountain of evidence refuting the idea, and no serious historian would try to argue it. Most British officials shared High Commissioner Chancellor's view that the Balfour Declaration was a "colossal blunder."
Particularly as the narrative winds down, there are instances of bias that would make any fair-minded historian wince--Segev's treatment of the White Paper of '39, of Bevin, of the immigration of Jews from Arab countries into Israel, etc. Still, the book is worth reading for the light it sheds on daily life in Palestine under the Mandate. You really appreciate how much of today's conflict is deja vu all over again. Some readers might want to go directly to the original sources--like the memoirs of one of Segev's favorite characters, Khalil al-Sakakini, a Christian Arab educator, nationalist, and Nazi sympathizer. But anyone interested in a thorough and accurate history of British rule in Palestine should look elsewhere, and preferably to an historian rather than a leftist journalist. There are good general histories by C. C. O'Brien and H. Sachar. On the Mandate, take a look at E. Kedourie, E. Karsh, D. Fromkin, B. Wasserstein, John Marlowe, and Christopher Sykes.
on October 17, 2001
For more than 700 years, Palestine had been under Muslim rule. In 1917, World War I had just ended and changed the map of Europe. The map of the Middle East was about to change too. The British were moving into Palestine and would soon open the country to mass Jewish immigration. By 1948 when the state of Israel was established, the Jewish population had increased ten fold. Tom Negev's well-researched and deeply detailed book describes the thirty years of British rule in Palestine at a very human level. All of the protagonists are represented in his book--British, Arab and Jew. Though the book touches on the policy dilemmas the British experienced while attempting to govern a land viewed as holy land to three of the World's great religions, Negev's account really hits its strides in helping the reader understand the dynamics and tensions of the region as he introduces a seemingly endless cast of fascinating characters. Events during the British occupation seem topical even today and presciently foretell the rocky road ahead as Jew and Arab struggle for ownership of these ancient lands. A very enlightening book!
on October 17, 2001
Tom Segev is a leading Israeli journalist and his book examines British and Zionist archives along with a wealth of memoir literature to produce this history of Mandate Palestine. Segev asserts the interesting thesis that contrary to much Israeli belief that the British were anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish, their presence was consistently pro-Zionist and they were pro-Zionist because they subscribed to the anti-Semitic belief that the Jews had a powerful, sinister and secret influence over the world. What can we say about this book? Personally, I have doubts about the second half of the thesis. Segev does quote some interesting comments from prominent British politicians that wildly exaggerate Jewish power. But considering that Britain was responsible for regulating much of the world in the twenties and thirties and that in most places the Jewish presence was irrelevant I think Segev overstates his thesis. It would be more accurate to say that Jewish influence was overestimated only when the British dealt with the relatively peripheral question of Palestine.
Another weakness of Segev's account is his journalistic background. There are endless anecdotes, many of them interesting, from British officials, local politicians, victims on both sides, civilians from other countries who have made Palestine their home. There is less systematic analysis of such matters as basic politics, economics, ideology or religion. Larger questions of sociology are not dealt with. Several times Segev notes that only three out of ten Arab children went to school, as a substitute for a more systematic, if less journalistic analysis, of Arab culture. There is also the odd proportioning of the book. The book is more than half over until we reach the end of the first decade. The second decades gets 149 pages, and the third 73 pages. The history of the Israeli war of independence is only briefly discussed.
Despite a slow start, this is a book worth reading. It shows a picture in which neither the British, nor the Arabs, nor the Jews come out looking very well. The British presence was essential to the success of the Zionist enterprise. And despite comparisons of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin to Haman, most Jews had cordial relations with the British government to the final days, and vice versa. (One of the British government's last acts was to grant fourteen and a half thousand dollars to Hebrew University). Nevertheless, the British did have a tendency to winge and complain over the results of what were essentially their own double-dealing. Sometimes these degenerated into bigoted little rants against either or both Jews or Arabs. Two incidents stand out in this book. In one Anthony Eden forced a ship full of illegal immigrants out to sea after deceiving the cabinet about its seaworthiness, which led to the ship sinking and 800 lives lost. The second incident contains the British support for the Arab educational system. There has been much loose talk among conservatives about imposing empire on Afghanistan and Iraq. But during the Mandate the British did little, since expanding education would have cost money, and besides it would spoil "traditional" peasants and cause a kerfuffle. So much for the liberating modernity of imperialism, which clearly does not balance out the use of torture, collective punishment and arbitrary execution that marked the supression of the 1937 Arab revolt. Arab leaders also do not come out well. Not only does the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem come out as a pro-Nazi, but he also appears rather incompetent in his disingenuousness and dilatory nature. (There is an amusing anecdote in which the Mufti meets with Hitler, who nearly calls off the meeting because the Mufti and most Arabs would expect coffee with such a meeting. Hitler hated coffee, and once he was calmed down, the Mufti had to be satisfied with lemonade). More tragic is the story of Khalil al-Sakakini, an Arab intellectual who at the beginning of the book helps a Jew hide from the Ottomans and at the end is writing bloodless, callous, insensitive comments on the Holocaust and the Palestinian hope that Hitler might help them out of their dilemma. On the other hand, Segev points out that the fact that most Jews survived the horrible massacre at Hebron in the late twenties was because their Arab neighbors protected them, a record that is better than most European countries.
And finally of course, there is the record of the Zionists, of Weizmann and Ben-Gurion. Despite talk of benefiting both communities, Segev shows that this talk was largely rhetoric. By the late thirties many Zionists talked increasingly of a "transfer" of the Arab population, never less than two-thirds of the population during the period, which would not be the result of free consent. Some may legitimately argue that Segev concentrates too much on Jewish chauvinism. After all, one may not like the assorted bullyings of the Hebrew language police, but the result did turn a ritual language unused for centuries into a living language with an already impressive body of literature behind it. On the other hand, mutual demagoguery over religious sites and Zionist propaganda lamenting the marriages of Jewish women and British soldiers quite properly leave a sour taste in the mouth. One of the most interesting things in Segev's account is how he refutes the idea that if only free immigration to Palestine had been allowed, the Jews of Europe could have been saved from Hitler. Given the fact that Palestine only had 2 million people in 1947 and only a third of them were Jews, the economy could hardly have absorbed them all at once. This was why Weizmann in the late thirties supported allowing 75,000 Jews a year to come to Israel, which would have saved less than 5% of Hitler's victims before the Holocaust started. (This assumes, of course, that the Jews wanted to leave Europe, and having left ,wanted to go to Palestine). Clearly this a work with considerable relevance to today's headlines.
on March 7, 2002
Like some of the other reviewers, I was initially disappointed by the predominance of anecdotes and details unrelated to explicating the big issues. However, I came to appreciate Segev's goal, which was to give the reader an appreciation of what life was like in Palestine in the period leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel. I've gone on to read the books by Netanyahu and Said recommended by another reviewer (as well as the Zionist rant "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Middle East Conflict"), and I'm very grateful I read Segev's book first, because I now have some appreciation of the motives and social context of the people involved. For example, the discussions of some British officials' attitudes toward Jews was quite interesting, even if one retains a skepticism about what degree of importance they played in the ultimate decisions of the British government. It was shocking to read descriptions of violence between Jews and Arabs from the early years of the Mandate that could have been taken from today's newspapers. The book gave me a deeper understanding of what has led to the moral transgressions of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while leaving me wondering what the British could have been thinking. Segev makes clear that the British had plenty of warnings about the disaster they were creating in the Middle East, but they just sort of muddled through, allowing the situation to deteriorate. I enthusiastically second the recommendation of another reviewer to follow this book up with Benjamin Netanyahu's "A Durable Peace" and Edward Said's "The Question of Palestine."
on February 7, 2005
Tom Segev describes in much detail and often with unusual candor how Palestine became a British Mandate and the mission apparently impossible that the British took on them between 1917 and 1948 to manage both communities whose respective aspirations could not ultimately be reconciled under their tenure. Segev makes his account of the events especially moving by describing the life of ordinary Christians, Jews and Muslims besides that of the better known actors of this tragic comedy. Segev challenges the commonly-held view that the British were pro-Arab. Although the British made vague promises of sovereignty to the Arabs in exchange for their support against the Ottomans in charge of Palestine until 1917, they almost systematically promoted the Zionist enterprise at the expense of Christians and Muslims according to Segev. The British both feared and admired the Jews. The British tended to subscribe to the anti-Semitic view that the Jews were in control of history and should not be offended in their capacity of useful ally against common enemies. The proclamation of the Balfour Declaration and the support given to its implementation are deemed to reflect this pro-Jewish bias. To the surprise of many 21st century observers, some British sincerely believed that the aspirations of Jews and Arabs were compatible. Other British feigned to subscribe to this view. Most of the remaining British shared Segev's point of view that the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine could not happen without diminishing the standing of the local Arab community. The contradictory interests of both communities resulted first in local atrocities on both sides and then in the first war between the reborn Eretz Yisrael and the neighboring Arab nations in 1948.
on June 6, 2001
Let me begin by correcting some mischaracterizations:
The White Paper of 1939. It and its consequences are discussed in depth from page 440-492. Segev argues it was meant only to mollify the Arabs for the War's duration and "The Arab's great achievement then, greater even than the White Paper, was to have made the British sick of Palestine." (p. 443) Furthermore, Segev pointedly discusses its effect on immigration, "By the end of the war, close to 20,000 people had entered the country [illegally.] Another 40,000 immigrants had arrived with legal permits. However, the illegal operation did not in the end enable more Jews to flee the Holocaust, because the British deducted an estimated number of illegals from the 75,000 permits promised in the White Paper. And even this quota was not fulfilled." (p. 459)
"... ... ...." The justifications for the occupation of Palestine are discussed in the beginning of the book, where one would expect to find them. Segev argues that the idea of establishing a land bridge did not drive the conquest of Palestine, but that "[The British] gave [Palestine] to the Zionists because they loved `the Jews' even as they loathed them ... and above all feared them. They were not guided by strategic considerations, and there was no orderly decision-making process." (p. 33)
"[A]n interministerial committee was established in London to discuss the future of the Ottoman territories. The committee members weighed largely strategic issues. Palestine's importance was weighed in the context of securing Britain's access to India, but Britain did not need to control the country for this purpose; indeed, the committee did not recommend its conquest. In any case, there would have been no strategic reason to give Palestine to the Jews. ...
"At the beginning of the war, Britain had acted on the assumption that the best way to strike Germany was ... in Western Europe. The possibility of outflanking it from the east ... was not yet part of the battle plan. The action [Herbert] Samuel proposed therefore ran against his colleagues' strategic thinking. It did, however, appeal to their sense of historic justice ...." (p. 36)
Official British Papers. The endnotes reveal a wealth of Official British Papers as well as official and unofficial correspondence between the authorities. The work is well documented as eighty pages of endnotes attest. ....
One Palestine, Complete is a well-written and compelling story. Its subject is contentious -- the evolution of the Arab-Jewish conflict under the British mandate. Segev tries to be objective without hiding his disdain for certain characters and beliefs.
Segev tries to demonstrate that the British didn't stay in Palestine after a cold look at its interests, but rather by default and because key members in the English leadership were manipulated by the adept diplomacy of leaders of the Zionist movement. The British were malleable because they held a romantic and sentimental view of the role Jews play in the world -- influence and power like that described in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Segev argues that thus there was a conflict between British interests, strictly speaking, and policy in Palestine, driven by sentiment and fabulation. Ultimately, despite their de facto collaboration with Zionist organs, the English left Palestine despised and terrorized by both Arabs and Jews. Segev suggests that perhaps this was unfair, but that the Brits definitely made their bed.
Segev believes the human level of these currents of history important, and chose the life of Khalil Al-Sakakini as a human prism through which to view the evolution of the conflict. Al-Sakakini was an Arab humanist who hides an American Jew from the Ottoman authorities before the British victory in Palestine. By the end of the book, Al-Sakakini hates the Jews without reservation. Through this tale and others, Segev sketches a history of the hardening of the hearts on both sides. He has some sympathy for the Palestinian story, but he doesn't pull punches when describing Arabic behavior. For example, he makes a point of reporting that the Arabs -- in early massacres -- made sure to rip open the pillows of their victims, a ritual characteristic of Russian progroms.
It's important to stress the narrowness of Segev's subject. He is addressing the evolution of the national conflict as it unfolds under the British. Events that are relevant, but do not directly effect British thinking or the political behavior of the Arabs or Jews, are either ignored or hardly explained. For example, not much attention is paid to the events during World War II. Segev's account is mostly of General Montgomery's battles in North Africa and the role Mufti Husseini played in developing a Muslim SS division in the Balkans. We are informed that Truman was in favor of a Jewish state, but nothing on the Yom Kippur Statement. The story of the end of the British mandate is of developing an exit strategy -- by then the machinations of the British were irrelevant to the arc of the struggle in Palestine.
Thus, if you don't have fair command of Twentieth Century European history and a general grasp of Middle Eastern history, I wouldn't recommend this as a primer. However, it is a useful look at the early Arab-Jewish conflict and illustrates the repetitiveness of justifications and strategies employed by both sides in today's conflict. It's also an interesting look at a struggle between modern and primordial nationalisms -- perhaps an antidote to outdated thinking on the subject.
Note: Although the book is listed as being 612 pages long, the text is really just 519 pages long, the rest consists of endnotes -- citations only, extra commentary is placed in footnotes.
on August 9, 2001
I have been a student of the Middle East of a while, and no book as better explained the complex situation in British Palestine. Segev offers a balanced view of the occupation. His research into the British, Jewish and Arab views of the conflict is in depth and intelligent. This book lowers the Middle East Conflict from the esoteric pedastil that it has been placed on by the media and countless other books. While a long book, the benefits gained from reading this great history greatly outweighs the time that is required to put into it. I highly recommend it.