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The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Norton Paperback) 59887th Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393321128
ISBN-10: 0393321126
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1897, under order of First Zionist Congress president Theodor Herzl, two Austrian rabbis traveled to Palestine to explore the possibility of locating a Jewish state there. "The bride is beautiful," the rabbis cabled Herzl, "but she is married to another man." That "other man" was the Palestinian Arab nation, long established in the region as a political entity. Undeterred, Herzl pressed on with his program of emigration, ignoring Palestine's existing occupants and creating in the process what came to be known as the "Arab question."

In this far-ranging history, Avi Shlaim analyzes that question in remarkable detail, tracing the shifting policies of Israel toward the Palestinians and the Arab world at large. Herzl, he writes, followed a policy that consciously sought to enlist the great powers--principally Britain and later the United States--while dismissing indigenous claims to sovereignty; after all, Herzl argued, "the Arab problem paled in significance compared with the Jewish problem because the Arabs had vast spaces outside Palestine, whereas for the Jews, who were being persecuted in Europe, Palestine constituted the only possible haven." This policy later changed to a stance of confrontation against the admittedly hostile surrounding Arab powers, especially Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; this militant stance was a source of controversy in the international community, and it also divided Israelis into hawk and dove factions. The intransigence of those hawks, Shlaim shows, served to alienate Israel and made it possible for the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arab nationalist groups to enlist the support of the great powers that Herzl had long before courted. Both sides, in turn, had eventually to face the "historic compromise" that led to the present peace in the Middle East--a peace that, the author suggests, may not endure. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Optimism about the prospects for a Middle East peace agreement has accompanied the recent election of Ehud Barak as Israel's prime minister, but if this book is any indication, the war over Israel's history is likely to rage on. Shlaim (War and Peace in the Middle East, etc.) is a leader among revisionist historians who are challenging Israel's most cherished myths about itself: that it has been a peaceful nation forced into war by bellicose Arab neighbors incapable of accepting its existence. A professor of history at Oxford, he covers relations between Israel and the Arabs from Israel's 1948 War of Independence to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's electoral defeat this past May. Rarely have as many fresh details been presented together about Israel's inner political scene and the Jewish state's contacts with the Arab world in its early years. Shlaim ably sets out the belief, shared by Israeli leaders of all political stripes, that the country had to build up an "iron wall" of strength and security in order to bring Arab leaders to the negotiating table (Shlaim himself thinks the iron wall was a mistake). But Shlaim's revisionist enthusiasm too often gets the better of him: he fails to marshal the necessary evidence to support his contention that Arab rulers were "prepared to recognize Israel, to negotiate directly with it, and even to make peace with it." Shlaim's explanations of Arab political constraints, especially the pragmatism of Arab rulers relative to the extreme anti-Israel sentiment of the Arab street, is illuminating. But his view of Palestinian terrorism as a reaction to Israeli militarism is far too simplistic. Revisionism is one thing, but Shlaim employs a double standard: while he tends to view Israeli leaders, most notably Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as villains, he heaps praise on the "realism" of Arab leaders. A comprehensive, balanced history of Israel's history with its Arab neighbors needs to be written, but this is not it. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Norton Paperback
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 59887th edition (January 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321128
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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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.
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Format: 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!
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