Making of modern Israel

Leslie Stein’s sequel to his earlier volume, The Hope Fulfilled: The Rise of Modern Israel remains cocooned in sympathy for ‘Israel’s plight’

The making of modern Israel 1948-1967
by Leslie Stein (Polity Press)

The author, who teaches at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, has produced these 412 pages of sequel to his earlier volume, The Hope Fulfilled: The Rise of Modern Israel. As he states in the preface to this second publication, “although unashamedly sympathetic to Israel’s general plight, I have not stinted in reporting the country’s blemishes and occasional misdeeds … the text presents a balanced and … fair rendition of Israel’s early years”.

Balanced and fair, occasional misdeeds and blemishes! So much then in the present book as, one imagines, in its antecedent, for the plight of the Palestinian people. So much for those summarily driven off their lands in these past six decades and those struggling for survival under successive Israeli administrations. So much for the pristine, the coolly unquestioning content of, say, Chapter 2, “The Arab Refugees”. So much for the bland, the purportedly balanced text of, as a telling example, Chapter 5, “The Scourge of Arab Infiltration”: ‘infiltration’ into, one cannot but stress, what was initially Arab land.

“Balanced and fair rendition” eludes Stein’s punctilious study; complete as it is with meticulously recorded footnotes, detailed references, maps, tables, acknowledgements and the bountiful illustrative material provided by the Israel Government Press Office. (Also a source of unashamed sympathy for Israel’s plight!)

And the specific content or, more appropriately, the many notable absences from this extended apologia? These are probably most readily conveyed by reference to Chapter 1, “The War of Independence” and tangentially Chapter 6, “Operation Kadesh: The Sinai Campaign”. In the former of which, to my continuing shame, I participated as a member of the Palmach, then dubbed Israel’s crack troops. We operated as a marauding unit of swiftly moving, heavily armed jeeps behind the Egyptian lines, habitually living on what we plundered from the indigenous inhabitants. I was then a late teenager snatching time from my university courses; naively innocent, boyishly enthusiastic.

On returning to South Africa, I was able less boisterously to analyse our officially ordained task: forcibly to expel in situ Arab villagers and Bedouin nomads from their lands. We were to “free” permanent, as well as temporary settlements, including their adjoining croplands, for bulldozers to flatten signs of previous occupation.

Military colonialism had arrived — to assault the Palestinian and Bedouin peoples from all sides, not least to remove their livelihoods.

Abruptly to shove them into exile. An insatiable greed for land, for exclusive Zionist occupation. One more blemish? A further misdeed?

Now, 60 years on, I still recall in pain how I left the emergent Israeli state: sickened by the naked hostility I had encountered. We were the repeatedly victorious lords of all we had so rapaciously engorged.

None of which seems to have percolated through to our attentively diligent historian, Professor Stein.

He remains cocooned in his avowedly unashamed sympathy for “Israel’s general plight”.

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