History of Israel's War of Independence: The First Month
by Uri Milstein
Trans. by Alan Sacks. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. 377 pp. $57.50
Reviewed by Justin C. Danilewitz
Middle East Quarterly
Milstein's second volume in his monumental history of Israel's War of Independence stands out for the author's reluctance to taint the evidence with political opinion, his desire to let the facts speak for themselves, and a sound translation. His exceedingly well-documented, if somewhat patchy, reconstruction of events gives the reader a dry but often exciting summation of the most significant events from the November 29, 1947, partition vote at the United Nations to Israel's miraculous triumph of Gush Etzion on January 14, 1948. Milstein's chef d'oeuvre deals with but the initial stages of an unceasing struggle for Israeli independence that very much continues today, connecting his study to contemporary issues.
The evidence provided suggests an ongoing Israeli morality debate at all levels of leadership, particularly vis-à-vis the difficult effort to establish a policy of reprisal actions; when errors in judgment were made, the nascent Israeli society showed conscience and remorse. In this, Milstein implicitly repudiates the "new historians" who challenge Israeli scruples. A discussion of Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger's "settlement strategy" serves as a welcome reminder of the pivotal position of frontline settlements for Israeli national security. Similarly, Shlomo Gur's "stockade and tower" plan for isolated kibbutzim under siege to defend themselves against far stronger forces stands as a testament to the progress the Israel Defense Forces have made in the span of fifty years.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, History, Israel & Zionism | December 1997 MEQ
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