A Post by Ambrosia Boussweau, European Director of The Reading Life
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the Pope told a World Jewish Congress delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.” Pope Francis, 2015
Return to Zion The History of Modern Israel by Eric Gartman is a wonderful book, perfect for anyone who wants to understand middle eastern politics, which dominates the world stage now. In his introduction Gartman says that reading history should be exciting and fun and for sure he has achieved that objective in this exciting book. He sees the four thousand year history of the Jews as one of the great stories of human history and the development of and vibrant survival of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East as the triumph of a people against crushing odds. One of the very important things to understand about Israel is how it arose almost directly out of the Holocaust and Gertman does a wonderful job explaining this. The motto "Never Again" and the rock hard determination to survive rose out of the Holocaust. Many of the early settlers of Israel were Holocaust survivors and refugees from Eastern Europe and the pograms of Russia.
Over the last year or so I have read a number of books on the Holocaust as well as all of the works in the Yale Yiddish Library (this collection is by far your best introduction to Yiddish literature). I agree with Mel that the Holocaust was a war on the reading life. We both see it as the central event of the 20th century. The Holocaust set the stage for the Paris attacks. All terrorist groups are motivated by a hatred of Jews. This is just a fact.
They book opens with an account of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans in 73 to 74 A.D. He focuses on the siege of the fortress of Masada and the suicude of the 800 pr so Jewish defenders of the fort. He explains how the memory of this event fueled the fire for a Jewish homeland. He details the history of Zionism and the international politics behind England's permission for Jews to settle in the region of Palestine came about. He talks a bit about how this defeat of the rebellion destroyed the Jewish homeland and began the dispersion of Jews. Basically Churchill thought Jewish immigrants would do a better job developing the region than indigenous Arabs. I found this fascinating.
On May 14, 1948 David Ben-Gurian proclaimed the existence of the state of Israel declaring it a world wide home for Jews. Soon many people, over a million would come just from Russia, moved to Israel. The problem arose because the territory claimed by the state of Israel was occupied by a few million Arabs, mostly Palestenian. All of the surrounding countries were lead by dictators or monarchs and all had as their central policy the destruction the state of Israel and the complete slaughter of all Jews. The Arabs intended to complete the work of Hitler. Jewish leaders, many were veterans of World War Two, and the citizens of the new country of Israel began to create a defense force. With the help of financial aid from the American Jewish community they build up a powerful force. Every male citizen of age is in the reserves. As explained by Gertman, the residents of Israel were largely highly educated and many had technical or commercial skills where the Palestein residents were over 90 percent illiterate and had done little or nothing to improve their homeland in 2000 years.
Jewish immigrants to Israel had almost no experience as farmers for because by law in Russia and Easyern Europe Jews could not own land. Gartman explains how the collective farms produced what he calls a "New Kind of Jew", one who could turn the harshest soil into richly productive agricultural land. When most early residents arrived they spoke either Yiddish or Russian. In an incredibly bold and brilliant move the leaders decided to make the ancient language of Hebrew the official language. All over the country people began to learn Hebrew. It is the only case in history of the revival of an ancient language. People very quickly totally bonded to their new homeland.
Shortly after the declaration of statehood nearby countries like Egypt, Syria, and Jordan invaded. Like in all subsequent invasions, the Arabs were crushingly defeated. Gartman covers all the invasions. I knew that Israel would win but the story of the wars was very thrilling,
In the Yom Kippur War, the Russians provided the Egyptian military with the latest in high tech weapons, planes and tanks. The problem was the Arabs did not know how to repair them or use their advanced features. Egyptian soldiers were quick to jump out of tanks and run for home. Israeli soldiers on the other hand were totally trained and knew how to use the powerful weapons supplied by the USA and France. At the conclusion of all these wars Israel could have easily destroyed the Arab capitals but they did not believe in the killing of civilians. The Israelis showed a restraint in victory their enemies would not even have considerd.
The big human rights issue in the Middle East now is the fate of the Palestenians. Israel has perhaps millions of Arab residents who are a great source of social unrest. They feel Israel has stolen their land.
I would note that if the oil rich Arab nations spent a tiny bit of the money they use to fund their military to help the Palesteinians the human rights crisis could easily be ended. It is to the advantage of Israel's enemies to keep the Palesteinians in misery so they can blame Israel.
Gartman tells us how Isrsel developed into a very prosperous country through hard work, dedication and intelligence. He tells readers there is no possibility of Arab countries destroying Israel as the country is so powerful and is backed by America. The Arabs have been backed by Russian but not to the degree America has backed Israel. He basically acknowledges Israel probably has nuclear weapons and may have been prepared to use them in the 1967 war.
I learned a lot from this i book. Much more than I have touched on. I grew up with Israel on the nightly news but it was good to have it all told in a coherent narrative. He talks a lot about Israeli politics.
Some might say the book is totally pro-Israel . It does cover the hardships of the Palesteinians. I think if they had the power the countries bordering Israel would complete the Holocaust. Gertman does go into how Israel did face criticism for perceived injuries inflicted on Palestenians.
Arab leaders have screamed out death to all Jews but the grace of the Jews is they could wipe out the Arabs but have not.
David Gartman is an analyst for the US department of defense.
Reading this book helped put the events in the Middle East in perspective. I really respected how Gartman traced the origin of Israel to the Holocaust. In a great irony, at a time they badly needed it, Germany gave Israel a huge amount of money for theft of goods during W W Two. The country used these funds to help arm against those who would continue the Holocaust.