Sunday, July 26, 2009

1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, by Benny Morris

There was a time when revisionist historian Benny Morris was unemployable because of his supposed pro-Palestinian bias. Now he is a professor at Israel's Ben-Gurion University, and last year this book won the National Jewish book award. What happened? In part, Morris and other New Historians reshaped Israelis' understanding of their past. But Morris has changed, too, and today he is a disappointed liberal Zionist. In this impressive military history, written with admirable clarity, he remains sympathetic to the Palestinian Arabs expelled from their homeland, but adopts a harsher tone towards political Islam - what he calls "the jihadi impulse" underlying Arab hostility towards Jews and Zionism, a religious intolerance, signs of which he detects in 1948. The first Arab-Israeli war was not simply a nationalist war over territory but a war of religion, he now claims. Consequently, he is bleak about any possibility of reconciliation for as long as the Arab world remains unstable, oscillating "between culturally self-effacing westernisation and religious fundamentalism".

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