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The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 Hardcover – March 7, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Signature]Sarah F. GoldMidway through Gorenberg's revelatory account comes a striking irony, one of the many that emerge from this troubling history of Israeli settlements in the territories occupied after the 1967 Six Day War. In 1970, army commander Ariel Sharon said settlements would "wean the Arabs of the Gaza Strip from the illusion that we will eventually get out of there." Who could foresee that 35 years later, Prime Minister Sharon would bow to reality and spearhead the dismantling of those settlements and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza? The power of another illusion—the Israelis' belief that "creating facts" by establishing settlements, could cement their sovereignty over contested lands and help guarantee its security—is a defining element of this tragic tale. It's an illusion that led to Israel's knowing violation (despite the warning in a top secret legal memo that Gorenberg cites) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It led to the eviction of peaceful Bedouin from their land to make way for Israeli settlers. It led, according to Gorenberg, to the awakening of militant Palestinian nationalism. Ultimately, says Gorenberg, the settlements fed the escalating passions and violence that created the stalemate we know today. Militant, messianic nationalism was also the motivating force of the Israeli settlers, and Gorenberg dramatically describes this fervor's spread. Awakened by Israel's stunning 1967 victory, it led young religious Israelis to defy a government crippled by internal conflict over what to do with the occupied territories, and to settle in what the activists called "Judea and Samaria." The first settlement in the Golan Heights, however, was not founded by religious extremists, but by secular followers of socialist nationalist Yitzhak Tabenkin. One of Gorenberg's strengths is his deep knowledge of Zionist history and his skill in illuminating the emotional and ideological roots of all the settler factions.These emotional roots also help explain the paralysis of Israel's leaders in the face of defiant settlers. While brutally honest about the failings of Golda Meir (intolerant of dissent), Moshe Dayan (who thought occupation could be benign) and other Israeli figures (as well as those of their Arab opponents), Gorenberg, an associate editor of the Jerusalem Report, understands their secret sympathy for the settlers. Leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Levi Eshkol were among Israel's founders, and the settlers' love of the land evoked their own pioneering youth and the heroic struggle to create a Jewish state. Nostalgia for the past clouded their vision and prevented the formulation of a sound policy for Israel's future. Today, with Ariel Sharon critically ill after a massive stroke, that future remains very much in question, and Gorenberg's book is an even more essential guide to understanding Israel's own contribution to its current tragic pass. 8 pages of photos; maps. (Mar. 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Most empires are not built by way of a conscious, planned, systematic execution of a policy of territorial expansion. Goren-berg, a journalist in Jerusalem, examines the evolution of the Israeli policy of settlement of the territories conquered in the Six Days' War, of 1967. He convincingly illustrates that the policy was the result of myriad small decisions and actions by both major and minor players on the Israeli political, military, and religious landscapes. At no time could one speak of a clear, coherent, and constant government policy that contemplated massive settlement and eternal control of these territories. Rather, Gorenberg describes a series of spasmodic efforts, sometimes led by religious zealots, sometimes led by secular, left-leaning Zionists, and sometimes by military pragmatists. At times the government encouraged these movements; at other times, the government seemed a semiparalyzed bystander. It was only with the fall of the Labor Party and the emergence of the Likud under Menachem Begin, in 1977, that settlement and retention of the West Bank and Gaza were crystallized as government policy. Given recent developments in both Israeli- and Palestinian-controlled areas, this is a timely, vital, and even riveting analysis of how the current territorial and ethnic Gordian knot developed. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507564X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805075649
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,119,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on March 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The Israeli settlements have never been given a history of their own, rather they have been part of the polemic of 'conflict'. Leftists, liberals, Islamists, kahanists, all of them have talked about the settlements, but no one has bothered to explain them by themselves, which is what the world of academia and those interested in Israel have needed all this time. Finally this history, which tragically covers only the first ten years of 'occupation' in an immense 480 pages finally does justice to the settlements. The settlements were not some vast worldwide Jewish conspiracy, as the left of Europe claims, but rather they were some sort of mistake, accident and convoluted plan, facts on the ground without planning or logic. Some were religious, other secular. Some were built on ground already owned by Jews before 1948, such as Gush Etsion and Kfar Darom they were merely reclaimed, whereas some were built on 'crown lands' or government land and thus on 'stolen land'. Some were purely for religious reasons such as Kiryat Arba, some for strategy, some to stop infiltration(such as the Jordan valley), some to establish facts.

This is a brilliant and insightful book by an author who actually knows Israeli and Zionist policies and has real insights into the personalities of the men involved from Dayan to Allon and others. This is not the typical "Israeli greed for others land caused the settlements" that pretends the settlements were established in some logic by all of Israel and with a clear conspiratorial policy, rather this is a fair account that tells the real, honest, history behind what happened.

A wonderful contribution.

Seth J. Frantzman
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sidney Bernstein on May 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a meticulously researched, penetrating and fluidly written analysis of a decade of decision by indecision that is at the heart of today's Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. An adherent of Carlyle's dictum that history is biography, Gorenberg's description of the "players" in middle eastern politics is fascinating. But due respect is also paid to Tuchman's acknowledgement that historical forces have an imperative of their own. This somewhat revisionist history is indispensable reading for anyone wishing to understand how what happened, happened.

If I could have read only one book on the middle east published in the last decade, this would be it.

Sidney Bernstein

Retired publisher, Harcourt Brace Professional Publishing
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Eric Maroney on February 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Accidental Empire is a wide ranging book, but a wonderfully focused and well researched account aftermath of the Six Days War, the capture of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. TAE appears to be a wider treatment of Gorenberg's far less successful (though very interesting) first book, The End of Days, about the growing power of religious Zionists. Instead of focusing on the Temple Mount, TAE provides an account of the religious settlement movement, primarily Gush Emunim, and their attempts to create illegal settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Perhaps the strongest point of the book is how muddled the thinking of the Labor leadership was about the new settlements. As aging revolutionaries, they were still wedded to the idea that settlements meant security; that creating facts on the land would lead to a more secure Israel. But they were equally drawn to the idea that land was a negotiating chip with surrounding Arab states. The pull between both impulses led to a sustained paralysis.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Baracas on April 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don't let negative critics scare you from reading this book. Read this unique perspective to a complicated relationship involving religious dogma and secular factions within Israel and the US to assist your understanding of the larger picture. The author's research and opinions are not designed to support the proposition that settlements are collectively an "empire". His conclusion is simple: the settlements and the ideology supporting them are a significant aspect of Israeli politics and driving the scope of the relationship with the US, Pal Authority, etc.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dennis McClure on October 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have memories of the people and events that has taken place in the sixty plus years that I have been around. I even recall television news of the Suez Canal crises in the 1950's. This book however contextualized all of it, so now I have a deep understanding of how all of this strife came to exist. Now, I no longer need to think I need to take sides. My taking sides in the mater of the strife between Israel and the Arabs will make no difference. This book on the other hand makes a difference because it can pull one back from thinking that one needs to support one side or the other. I now have a freedom to be with all that I hear and see from that area of the world. The great thing about that is I have no solutions or opinions to give. Right now I can live with that I see no solutions for the time being. Maybe that is what that region needs for awhile. No solutions, but understanding from all.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is an outstanding book. It provides deep insight into the early history of Israel and the Labor government's ineffectiveness in the face of a determined religious minority to try to occupy all the land that God had, apparently, granted them. Labor and secular Zionism were dominated by old warriors whose romanticism toward the Whole Land ideology and nostalgia for their young days and heroic deeds, when Jewish independence was a dream and romantic ideal rather than a messy and complicated reality, rendered them paralyzed and unable to come up with any consistent positions toward the occupied territories. Their deep inability to see the new messianic movement of the Block of the Faithful for what it was led them to quietly collude or tacitly approve of settler tactics they thoroughly mistook as an extension, or rather, a revival of their own young glory days. Decisions on what to do with the occupied territories were systematically not made in an effort to hold the party, or the governing coalition, together. Settlement proceeded without a real plan. Official paralysis ruled. It is axiomatic that when there is a power vacuum, someone will fill it. The messianic fundamentalists of Gush Emunim, in their absolute determination to "crate facts on the ground" that could not be undone, filled that vacuum and set up a culture of absolute lawlessness that is antithesis to any functioning democracy. The Bloc of the Faithful was as fundamentalist a movement as other fundamentalist, nationalist movements. Disobeying the law became one of its cornerstones and recruiting tools for very young people who by their nature love this kind of rebellious thing.Read more ›
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