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1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East Paperback – April 29, 2008
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It is now 40 years since the Six Days' War, in which Israel routed the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and transformed the geography and political landscape of the Middle East. Segev is a columnist for Ha'aretz, Israel's leading left-of-center daily newspaper, and he clearly views the events leading to the war as well as the aftermath of the conflict with a predictable bias. Still, many of his revelations are both startling and credible. A substantial portion of the book is devoted to an analysis of Israeli society on the eve of the war. Segev portrays a nation plagued by disillusionment, communal tensions, and anxiety about national survival. The idealism that inspired the early Zionist pioneers had waned, and the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities seemed increasingly resentful of each other. An increased awareness of the Holocaust by the younger generation combined with the extreme rhetoric of Arab leaders contributed to a sense of impending doom. Segev asserts that the outbreak of war was hardly inevitable and was precipitated by gross miscalculations by both sides. Freeman, Jay
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“Today we know that Israel's triumph in 1967 was a Pyrrhic victory. Tom Segev's 1967 makes that more clear than anything written on the subject . . . Segev documents this historic tragedy brilliantly, authoritatively, as no one has before.” ―Amos Elon, Ha'aretz
“Tom Segev's 1967 offers a brilliant description of the Six Day War in its widest context: the international scene, the Middle Eastern confrontations, the political and social situation of Israel, as well as fascinating snippets of everyday life. The crucial role of individual actors is deftly woven into the general picture, the description of the military events is enthralling. This is probably the best book on those most fateful days in the history of Israel and the Middle East.” ―Saul Friedlander, author of The Years Of Extermination: Nazi Germany And The Jews, 1939-1945
“The year 1967 divides the history of Israel in two: what came before and what came after. Tom Segev's book makes this abundantly clear, and demonstrates the difference between a military victory and a political one.” ―Daniel Barenboim
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But he is a great researcher and presenter of facts. He's a great documenter of an era, and has citations for just about everything. You end up learning more about Israeli society during the runup to the war, and about the occupation than the war itself. But that's fine. That's more what the book is for. The war itself is well-documented elsewhere.
One thing to note: If you get the Kindle edition, you're missing out on some nice photographs. I originally had the physical book, and was sorry to learn that I lost out on the photos when I switched out for an e-book.
I cannot say enough except that I cannot wait to receive my next book by Tom Segev!
It is amazing that the publisher allowed the book to be issued with such a bad reader and with such extremely poor pronunciations.
Lastly, the book contains lots of dull and uninteresting matter - it's as if the author was getting paid by the page and not by the quality of the content.
By going through letters, diaries, newspaper headlines and combing through government archives Mr. Segev attempts to give the reader an inside look at what was happening with Israeli society before, during and immediately after the Six Day War. He uses soldiers diaries to give the reader a sense of what they were fighting for and what they thought. He uses correspondence between relatives in Israel and abroad to show the mood of the Israeli people. He writes of the elitism of
Ashkenazi and the impoverishment of the Mizrahi Jews. The feeling of gloom and failure of the Zionist dream seems almost palpable. The Zionist dream seems to have stalled after hitting the harsh realities. Israel's great leaders had gone into semi-retirement (although never really far from center stage). The recession on top of all the other real problems created a depressing mood on the eve of Israel's most resounding triumph. Mr. Segev does a great job detailing all of this, and he goes deep into the elites feelings and decision making process in the lead up to the war.
But I had some serious problems with some of the history presented here. During the lead up to war Segev paints a picture of indecision and fear among the ministers. He writes about all night ministerial cessions discussing the dangers of war. The reader gets a picture of a government besieged by their own generals demanding immediate action and enemies that surround them ready to crush Israel in a single blow. The military leaders pushing for action and insisting that every delay brings Israel that much closer to total annihilation. At the same time Israel's enemies are pushing for war. The problem I have is this is contrary to everything I have ever read on the situation, and in the book Mr. Segev gives readers hints to the false picture. He writes about a CIA man living in Israel who advises his Israeli neighbor on how to properly dig a trench in preparation for the oncoming war, but then tells the man there is no need in digging the trench since Israel will have won the war in a week anyways. He also writes about a U.S. assessment that basically gives the same time line. At one point he writes that Eshkol knew that the generals were exaggerating about the dangers they faced. Not only that but every account from Egyptian point of view I have read speaks of the fact that Nasser felt himself pushed into a war he couldn't win by the Syrians. Nasser knew he couldn't win which is why he made conciliatory offers such as allowing Israeli shipping to pass but without flying the Israeli flag.
What I don't understand is why did the U.S., Egypt and Jordan governments have intelligence assessments that had pretty good assessments of the situation but yet the Israeli government didn't. This is one problem with Segev's account. He portrays the government as indecisive and overly worried, but the military leaders are chomping at the bit to attack Egypt. I can see the near hysteria that might grip the average Israeli citizen, but why is Eshkol so worried at one moment but at the next he knows the generals are exaggerating the dangers. It makes no sense.
All in all this book is very deserving of the four stars I gave it despite some of the very real problems I had with the book. His description of the days after the Israeli victory and the euphoric feelings that swept through the Israeli nation is very good, and of the leaders almost criminal refusal to tackle the very real problems with the newly occupied territories and the people therein that has condemned future generations to constant strife is excellent . There decision to simply put off the question of how to handle these problems was negligent in the extreme.
I concur with a previous reviewer that this work has to be read in conjunction with other more comprehensive works, but this book has some strong merits of its own, and it is essential in getting a full picture of the Israeli perspective in this war. One more caveat, this was not a comprehensive work. It is written from the Israeli perspective only. This isn't a problem, but readers should be aware of this before getting into this book.