The Arab-Israeli Conflict: The 1948 War, by Efraim Karsh
Admittedly, although Israel’s history is definitely something of great personal interest to me, I do not consider myself to be particularly knowledgeable when it comes to the 1948 war that preceded and immediately followed Israel’s independence when the grossly outnumbered Israeli population, with all of its geographic liabilities and logistical shortages, managed to become a regional power by defeating both internal and external enemies. The story is a powerful one, and not everyone reading this book is going to enjoy it, especially those who want to believe in a long-time identity when it comes to the Palestinian people. Ultimately, this book seeks to demonstrate that the suffering of the Palestinians is as a result of their leaders who inflamed anti-Jewish tension in the period before the war and bungled the conflict with Israeli Jews as well as other nations who sought to increase their hold over parts of Israel’s territory and refused to integrate refugees into their society, thus establishing the Palestinian identity where no such nation had existed before during the times of Ottoman rule or British mandatory authority. The historical record is not kind to the Arabs here, and the author manages to include a great deal of detail that makes this a very worthwhile guide.
In less than 100 pages, the author manages to do a very excellent job at writing about the war from beginning to end. He begins with an introduction and a chronology to set the context. He looks at the background of war, and the burden of the long history of Islam and Judaism and their interaction in the Holy Land. After that there is a dispassionate look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two sides at the beginning of the conflict and the outbreak of war because of the intransigence of the Arabs in refusing partition and the recognition of a Jewish state. The author looks at the fighting and the transition from inter-communal strife between Jews and Arabs to interstate warfare between Israel and its neighbors. There is a look at Ariel Sharon as a trapped soldier, the opinion of world leaders concerning the war, the portrait of a citizen leaving Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Arab defeat, and the conclusion and consequences of the war in perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict in succeeding decades. All in all, the book does a good job at looking at capabilities, difficulties, and the achievements and failures of both armies.
By and large, the Arab leaders do not come off well here. The consequences of defeat were pretty heavy, in that Syria and Egypt suffered mightily for their losses in this war and their leadership changed dramatically as a result of the David and Goliath encounter that they lost. Far from pushing the Jews into the sea or enacting a “final solution” as had been their intent (and as likely remains the intent of all too many on the Arab side), the war led to an expansion of Jewish territory and the flight of many Arabs because their ineffectual leaders were unwilling to live under Jewish rule and test the Jewish commitment to justice and equality. As a result, the Palestinian population suffered, but not thanks to Jewish oppression, but the failures of their leaders and especially the failure of neighboring nations to seek their well-being as part of their political calculations. The book gives a poignant look at the common people on all sides and on the repercussions that lasted long after the war itself in the desire of Israel for peace and a recognition of its borders and legitimacy and the seething desire for vengeance on the part of those who were defeated in 1948.