A Brief History Of Israel, by Bernard Reich
This book generally lives up to its name, and is a worthwhile book if one wants to read an insider’s perspective of the history of Israel as an independent nation. Admittedly, my interest in Israeli political history, which is really at the heart of this book, is limited to the extent that I support Likud and tend to take a dim view of socialist/leftist politics in general, and so I was pleased that the author was able to explain the origins of the Likud/Labor divide and where it began and what factors changed the political balance of Israel internally over time. I found, personally, the discussion of various waves of immigration and he importance of the conservative Middle Eastern wave of Jews to the viability of conservative politics to oppose the leftist former Soviet and Eastern European Jews to be deeply interesting, and the author did a good job at showing the electoral politics behind Israeli military efforts throughout its brief and so far violent history as well. Given that war and politics are among the most fundamental aspects of history for a nation, not least one like Israel, the author’s solid work in these elements makes for a good history overall.
This book of almost 300 pages is divided into eleven chapters that show a clear chronological bias for the 20th century history of the nation of Israel. The book begins with a list of illustrations, maps, tables, abbreviations and acronyms, as well as a preface, acknowledgements and an introduction. After that the author spends one chapter talking about the entire period between biblical times and the Ottoman period (1) and then another chapter of the prehistory of the Israeli state after the rise of Zionism in Europe (2). After that the author discusses the political, economic, and military consolidation between independence and the Six Day War (3) as well as the period from the Six Day War to the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath (4). This leads to a discussion of the peace with Egypt and the rise of Likud (5) as well as the period from peace with Egypt to the end of the first Intifada (6). After that the author discusses the Persian Gulf War and the abortive Oslo accords (7) as well as the Netanyahu and Barak governments up to 2000 (8). The book then ends with a discussion of the second Intifada (9) as well as a new perspective on security (10), and a conclusion (11) as well as appendices that include election results to the Knesset, basic facts about Israel, a glossary of political parties, a chronology, a bibliography, suggestions for future reading, and then an index.
To be sure, this book would have been better had it been less brief. A less brief history would have found the space to write about the context of the Jewish experience between the Hasmonean period and the re-establishment of an independent Jewish state that demonstrated the vulnerability that Jews faced as a minority people in Christian and Muslim realms. This context would have also allowed the author to provide some of the context that makes Israel’s behavior far easier to understand (to say nothing of justification) given the hostility that the Jewish people endured for many centuries of powerlessness. As it is, this book does a good job at discussing the political and military context of Israel’s existence, with the fragmentation of politics into a variety of ethnic, political, and religious parties that require coalitions to rule and compromises that have ensured a healthy tension between synagogue and state so far in Israel’s history. The author clearly has a perspective of his own, but manages to avoid making it too offensive to the reader who is interested in viewing the picture of war and peace, of political dealing and of the struggle to defend Israel’s borders and represent the nation before a candid world that Israel has faced so far in its history.