Customer Reviews


60 Reviews
5 star:
 (31)
4 star:
 (15)
3 star:
 (4)
2 star:
 (5)
1 star:
 (5)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Avi's use of primary sources makes this a compelling book
Avi Shlaim has painstakingly gone through the Israeli state archives as well as the public record office in London and interviewed many prominent notables including Abba Eban, King Hussein, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and many other major players for this massive history of modern Israel and its relations with the Arab world. All of this massive research and inquiry has...
Published on May 18, 2003 by nukemind

versus
64 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and valuable, but there is bias
This book covers the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, primarily from the 1948 war onwards. It takes as its theme that the leaders of Israel based their policies on an essay by the Zionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky (spiritual ancestor to today's Likud and founder of revisionist Zionism) called "The Iron Wall".
The Jabotinsky essay suggests that the Arabs would...
Published on June 7, 2002 by D. Murphy


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

55 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Avi's use of primary sources makes this a compelling book, May 18, 2003
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
Avi Shlaim has painstakingly gone through the Israeli state archives as well as the public record office in London and interviewed many prominent notables including Abba Eban, King Hussein, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and many other major players for this massive history of modern Israel and its relations with the Arab world. All of this massive research and inquiry has culminated in what is one of the most complete and compelling history books written about Israel. Uncompromising in his inquiries, Shlaim addresses the problems that both sides faced during their struggles for supremacy in British Palestine.
Starting with the Prologue, Shlaim begins with an interesting look at the early years of Zionism, which began as a nationalist movement in Europe. Shlaim makes some good points regarding its birth as a response to European anti-Semitism and the inability of some Jewish groups to fully integrate into European society (many exceptions to this existed however). We get insights into all the major Zionist figures including Birnbaum, Herzl, Weizmann, Jabotinsky, and the mastermind himself, Ben-Gurion. The problems faced by the early Zionist movement can be summed in an interesting early statement from a fact-finding mission sent by Herzl, which stated [about Palestine], "The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man." Meaning that the proposed land coveted by the Zionists already had a population of predominantly Arabic speaking peoples. Here begins the conflict that Shlaim writes about.
Shlaim goes over the relentless and systematic approach of early Zionist leaders to court all the prominent leaders of the early 20th century by telling them what they wanted to hear. The Ottomans were offered money and investment for their cooperation, while the British were given promises that the new Jewish state would be a British colony, and so on. Two forces emerged from the early Zionists according to Shlaim. One group wanted a complete population transfer and a new Jewish majority state planted in the area, while another group sought a partition plan that would give them a state, while leaving some territory for the Arabs. Both camps varied in terms of how they viewed the natives of the area. Some like Jabotinsky, Shlaim contends, basically viewed the Arabs as savages who could be easily removed in order for the Jews to have a homeland. Others were more conciliatory towards the Arabs and sought some sort of co-existence.
Israel was born during the tumultuous events following the UN resolution 181 to partition the region. The new state of Israel had many anomalous problems such as an Arab population that was nearly half the population of Israel itself. After decades of selective political pressure, the new state of Israel emerged as the most powerful state in the region. Shlaim correctly points out that the new state of Israel was not a David battling the Goliath of the Arab world. On the contrary, the new state had a military that was twice the size of the ill-equipped Arab adversaries it faced. Shlaim does a great job in showing what was reality and was fiction. The Arabs were never told to leave by surrounding Arab nations, but fled after hearing about massacres like Deir Yassin and in some cases were expelled by Israeli forces in order to create a decisive Jewish majority in Israel. The result was the Palestinian refugee problem that came to be the biggest obstacle to peace during the subsequent peace talks at Lausanne. The views of both sides by this time had become uncompromising. Shlaim points out that the Arab states opposed the creation of Israel from the outset for the simple reason that it was based upon an undemocratic process that would give Jews dominant political power, while nearly half the population was still Arab. In addition, leaders like Menachem Begin (once a terrorist commander of the extreme nationalist Irgun) proclaimed that, "The partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized.... Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel (biblical Israel) will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever." So while the Arabs sought to extinguish the state of Israel in 1948 as something they had never agreed to, the Israeli view was that they too wanted all of British Palestine. Preferably without any Palestinians left to oppose them.
The details of the wars in 1956, 1967, 1973, and the invasion of Lebanon are quite interesting as well. Israeli leaders often had conflicting views as to how to pursue different goals that Shlaim correctly describes as Byzantine in complexity. We learn that France and Britain were Israel's main allies during the early years and in order to maintain its military advantage, the Israelis even turned to Germany only a decade after WWII and the tragedy of the Holocaust for arms. Effectively outmaneuvering the Arab states through smart diplomacy, the Israelis managed to maintain the upper hand over the years. Shlaim goes over the political process and interaction before and after the 1967 with great detail in a section entitled "Poor Little Samson." This is a reference to the Israeli leadership's attempt to depict Israel as an underdog, when in reality they had the military advantage from the beginning. The saber rattling of the Arab states is interesting to read about as well. Why did Nasser order the removal UN peacekeepers in the Sinai? To appease the Arab critics who complained that he was "hiding" behind the UN. From Israel perspective, this made war a possibility though. Both sides misinterpreted each other's moves and this led to war, according to Shlaim.
I have compared Shlaim's work with many other books I've read, and have found this book to be one of the more objective books about Israel. It is critical of all groups involved and presents an honest attempt to analyze the conflict using mostly primary sources. I would recommend reading Shlaim's work along with other similar works such as "Righteous Victims" by Benny Morris. Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


134 of 161 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By far, the best account of the Arab-Israeli conflict., August 21, 2001
By 
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
I have searched over and over for an objective non-prejudiced book recollecting the events and issues that shaped the Mideast conflict.The only book I have found that is characterized as such is The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim. Given the fact that this issue is so complex, and since the factors affecting the conflict include-among others-sensitive issues like religious beliefs, racism and roots; often with an emotional dimension, most writers tend to be on one side or the other, almost always biased. This book is not only accurate, but more importantly very interesting as it reveals the most intriguing details about the people who shaped this history and events of the said conflict. Most books I read are either written by Arabs and so clearly overlooking the emotional value of the land to the Jews, or by Westerners, who always seem to neglect the basic Arab side of the story. I am very impressed by the comprehensiveness of the book. Although Shlaim does not draw conclusions (he only accounts for the background and tells the facts), the book is very 'intelligent' as it helps analyze the problem in a way different from all the other accounts of the Arab Israeli conflict. I wish everyone who holds a biased opinion as regards the Middle East-especially out of ignorance of the complete story-reads this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


53 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Iron Wall, May 6, 2002
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
The Iron Wall will be sure to provoke strong reactions. If you are the type of person to view an objective and accurate history of Israel as somehow "pro-Arab" or "revisionist at its worst" then this book will surely anger you. But if you are a fan of accuracy and objectivity, like myself, then you will applaud Schlaim's work.
Schlaim presents the basic argument that throughout Israel's history, its leaders have enacted an "Iron Wall" of military strength to counter first Arab infiltrators and then PLO "terrorists." He traces the history of the debate in Israeli government between Hawks and Doves, or Moderates and Activists, as he refers to them. Consistently, the Activists (that is, those advocating active military excursions to prevent Arab opposition) won these debates, and the "Iron Wall" has dominated Israeli political scene.
I read one review that said that Schlaim is purely objective and doesn't give his own conclusions. I disagree. While his research and presentation are both convincing and objective, he definately does draw conclusions about what should be done. Just reread the last sentence of the book. He is saying "Look guys, you've been trying this 'Iron Wall' idea of active military pressure since the birth of your nation, and it obviously does NOT work. Try something new!" I wholeheartedly agree.
I highly recomend this book. In addition, please take a look at some of the good books out there on the period of time prior to the birth of Israel -- the conflict did not start in 1948!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


81 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Topical and Important, December 17, 2001
By 
E. Rodin MD (Sandy, UT United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
Professor Shlaim's review of the relationship between Palestinian Arabs and Jewish immigrants from the beginning of the Zionist colonisation project up to the election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister is highly enlightening. "The Iron Wall" was an expression coined by Ze'ev Jabotinsky to denote that the immigrants will require a strong military to gain the respect of the Arab population both within the British mandate area as well as by their neighbors. The various wars the state of Israel has been involved in since its inception, and their reasons, are carefully documented. So are the policies which led to the current impasse between Israelis and Palestinians. It is most heartening to see that the views of both sides are presented rather than, as usual, the unilateral one from the Israeli side. The fact that the book is written by a Jewish rather than Arabic author makes it even more important.
The Iron Wall ought to be read by our politicians as well as media pundits because the current good versus evil depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict is not only inaccurate but dangerous since it will inevitably result in further escalation of bloodshed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


64 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and valuable, but there is bias, June 7, 2002
By 
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
This book covers the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, primarily from the 1948 war onwards. It takes as its theme that the leaders of Israel based their policies on an essay by the Zionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky (spiritual ancestor to today's Likud and founder of revisionist Zionism) called "The Iron Wall".
The Jabotinsky essay suggests that the Arabs would not accept a Jewish state and would naturally fight it. The only chance for survival of a Jewish state would be by being so string they could crush all opposition and force despair on their enemies. At that point the Arabs would be prepared to negotiate a settlement. Until that point was reached, Israel would need its 'Iron Wall'.
Shlaim essentially blames Israel for missing numerous possibilities for peace with the various Arab states from 1949 onwards and that Israel created the Palestinian refugee problem (deliberately).
Various reviewers and historians have criticized his book and shown flaws in it. However my reading of it is that the evidence he presents, while not fully supporting his views (he is very one sided in blaming Israel and ignores both Arab intransigence and also the role of the Superpowers during the cold war) he does at least present enough evidence to show that the myth of Israel the victim and hero is also an exaggeration.
Israel has provably committed atrocities over the years (since before 1948 and its foundation) and has been in breach of international law on numerous occasions, but at the same time the Arabs have been no better, and this aspect is missing from the book.
One problem is evidence - the book relies almost entirely on secondary sources, and mostly of Jewish provenance. There was limited use of the Israeli state archives, none at all of the Jordanian state archives (which scholars can get access to) and little use of other Arab sources.
The book does have extensive notes and a large bibliography.
This book is worth reading, but should be taken with a pinch of salt, and any reader should read books both by Benny Morris (another Israeli revisionist historian) and also should look at books by historians presenting the other side (e.g. Ephraim Karsh). The reality is that at the moment there is little provably objective history of the conflict and anyone who wants to understand it has to read widely and with an open mind. It should be clear to anyone who does that 1) Israel is not a monster and the Arabs harmless victims and 2). Israel is not a harmless victim and the Arabs monsters.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


44 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Israel in a new light, August 22, 2000
This is a hard hitting and well thought out book. Shlaim takes us through the major events of Israel's political history (at a pace and level of detail which I found to be very helpful as a newcomer to the subject) dismantling the stereotypical image of Israel as a persecuted nation surrounded on all sides by danger and recasting it as a nation whose "aggressive defensive" policies have to a large extent contributed to the troubles it faces. Shlaim writes as one who is genuinely shocked at what he has discovered and the passion that results from this can at times lead him to see support for his thesis in the facts he represents where perhaps such support is tenuous, but this should not detract from the the importance of this work - rather, as has been suggested elsewhere, the reading of a less controversial history could be a useful complement.
If one can set aside the revisionist aspect of the book for a moment, Shlaim's history is a tremendously readable, detailed, insightful and compelling account of the life of a nation which has had to fight for its existence since its birth. The revisionist point that he brings in is that Israel has on many occasions passed up the political means to make that existence easier, and in some periods of its history systematically disregarded the peaceful path in favour of the military option. Biased? Quite probably. But no more than Tim Pat Coogan's "The Troubles", and no more critical about Israel's conduct in its foreign affairs than Coogan's account is of Britain's role in Northern Ireland. This makes it a challenging book, and occasionally uncomfortable to read (Shlaim does not confine his criticism to Israel - Britain, France and the U.S. come in for their fair share too). But do, do read it. This book may not change your views on the Middle East, but will almost certainly make you think about them from a different perspective.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sometimes dead on, often wishful thinking, May 3, 2003
By 
"gabed" (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
While Shlaim rightly exposes the Likud's role in sabotaging the peace process - from Begin to Sharon to Shamir to Netanyahu (to Sharon again, which happened after the publication of the book), he also re-writes the central myth of Israeli history - that Mapai and Labor have always sought peace but could not find willing Arab partners. He details Ben-Gurion's missed opportunities for peace and Golda's intransigence, and even Shimon Peres' ill-fated war on Hamas that precipitated Netanyahu's election.
While not absolving the Arabs of their own responsibility, Shlaim lists the many disproportionate Israeli military actions that took a quiet situation inevitably towards war. However, on many occasions, Shlaim displays what can only be called wishful thinking: Ben-Gurion's unwillingness to consider peace with Syria in 1949 is not a failing - the Syrian regime ended in a bloody coup less than six months after it took power and the next regime could hardly have been expected to honor its peace agreement (much as Netanyahu did not honor Oslo.)
Shlaim champions Moshe Sharett and Levi Eshkol, but they were simply weak politicians. It is wishful thinking to believe that if only Ben-Gurion hadn't been so domineering that Eshkol and Sharett would have achieved peace. Shlaim can be very confident in exposing Ben-Gurion because he has Ben-Gurion's verbose diary - but he has no such information about Assad or Nasser or Sadat and chooses to take dubious statements about them at face value.
In the end, Benny Morris probably has it right: there will never be a full accounting of the Arab-Israeli peace process until the same kind of revisionist historians appear on the Arab side to challenge the myths of Israeli intransigence as firmly held by their countries as those of Arab intransigence are held by Israel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


33 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE IRON WALL, January 18, 2000
By A Customer
This is one of the most unbiased, factual accounts of the history of Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel that I have ever read. It challenges long-standing traditional views and presents a revisionist approach, providing a more moderate look at issues such as the Zionist movement and the Arab refugee problem. But at the same time it doesn't come across as offensive for pro-Israelis like me! Its easy to read, but detailed, and incredibly interesting! A must-read for those interested in the Middle East.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Contribution to Israeli History, September 22, 2001
By 
Ahava Shalom (Harvard, Boston USA.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) (Paperback)
Shlaim's book is an important work, providing as it does an exceptionally balanced, objective and honest assessment of Israeli foreign policy over the past 50 odd years. This critical piece of writing provides a 670 page evaluation of the principal events surrounding the inception and evolution of the Israeli state with a scholarly objectivity far removed from the partiality that so often riddles works on the Middle East.
An indication of a book's objectivity can sometimes be gleaned by an observation of the sort of critics who bash it and the sort who praise it.
Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist history at its best, August 17, 2000
This book is a must read for any serious student of recent middle east history. Written by a highly respected expert in the field (Shlaim is Professor of International Relations at St. Antony's, Oxford, and the author of the highly acclaimed 'War and Peace in the Middle East'), it highlights some of the often untold aspects of Israeli history. His account is fairly balanced and objective, though that means that he is often critical of U.S., British, and Israeli policy. However, it does not mean that his perspective is seriously distorted in favor of the Palastinians.
Just a few comments on earlier reviews: I agree with Roy's statement that all books are biased in one way or another, and it is certainly true for this book as well(even though it makes every effort not to be). If this is the first book you read on middle east history, it should definetly not be the last one you read. On the other hand, if you are already familiar with some middle east history, this book will complement your knowledge intelligently.
Concerning linsey ram's criticism of new revisionist history, all I can say is that Prof. Anita Shapira's position (you can read her article online at [...] ) is itself controversial, and some scholars even reject her position outright.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback)
The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) by Avi Shlaim (Paperback - January 17, 2001)
$24.95 $17.79
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.