Guide The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977

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SOAS: Hotung Project: Meron opinion

Some seventy suicide bombers were intercepted so far this year, according to the Israeli army, though one managed to get through and blew himself up in a crowded restaurant in Tel Aviv. He will not be the last. Hell is truth seen too late, as Hobbes said. Sharon was a superb tactician but a terrible strategist. He started a disastrous war in Lebanon which he hoped would eliminate the PLO there just as it had been eliminated in Jordan.

I remember first meeting him soon after the war at a meeting with Haaretz editors: he was still an army general at the time, greatly admired for his victory in a war ominously named after the Six Days of Creation. Even Prime Minister Rabin — the great warrior who as a young officer had killed fellow Jews on the docks of Tel Aviv in when the radical Irgun, defying orders, tried to smuggle arms into the country — lacked the stomach for a similar fight this time.

Though this acquiescence may have been understandable, its effects were corrosive.

Colonial Drift

From a few tiny seeds grew a pocket-size empire of suburban garrisons — some of them perhaps at one time necessary for Israel's defense, but many with only historical, sentimental or economic value for Jews. They also carried a staggering price: all those Arab noncitizens Israel had just inherited, who soon began to make their presence felt. Gorenberg takes pains to explain that almost everyone involved shares blame for what developed. In the decade after '67, all the belligerents missed chances for peace, ignoring evidence that failed to fit their worldviews.

Gershom Gorenberg’s Great Book on the Settlements, and What It Says About Ideas in the U.S.

Gorenberg shows Moshe Dayan, Israel's one-eyed war hero, musing that the Palestinians would end up as grateful colonial subjects like the Togolese; Henry Kissinger overlooking obvious signs of Israel's settlement construction; and Arab leaders rejecting Israel's peace offerings in the faith they'd soon crush it on the battlefield. Despite Gorenberg's efforts at careful impartiality, the book has its soft spots. Though he tries hard to demonstrate the human cost of Israel's nonpolicy, the Palestinians remain largely invisible and inaudible this may be due in part to poor documentary evidence.

Building Israeli Settlement Aka Birth Of A Kibbutz (1948)

Nor does he say enough about the weird ethos of the settler movement, which combined religious messianism, ultranationalism and an incongruous hippie aesthetic. At other moments, he overwhelms the reader with detail. Gorenberg overuses the reporter's trick of providing color to flesh out historical fact; the many descriptions of weather or the landscape sometimes threaten to bog down the narrative. Yet it still soars. The book works powerfully on two important levels: as a deeply informative counterhistory and as a mournful reminder of what happens when a democratic government acquiesces in the face of its own militants.

Gorenberg ends with a fast-forward to last summer's Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, a rare break from the deadlock the settlements have produced. Like the earlier pullout from Sinai, however, Gaza was relatively easy. Extricating Israel from the West Bank, where , Jews now live intertwined with Arabs in what Gorenberg calls "an artificially created Bosnia," will be exponentially harder. Still, by showing the root of the problem — incompetence, not ideology — Gorenberg points to the direction from which an answer may someday emerge.

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The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977

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