The thirteen chapters in this collection cover Israel's first half-century, from the founding of the Zionist movement to independence in 1948,[1] but do not constitute a systematic history. Rather than establish interconnected themes, this first volume offers a collection of solid and authoritative articles, each standing on its own and casting light on a particular aspect of pre-statehood Israeli history.

In some cases, this light is cast on dark corners usually illuminated only in more specialized literature: the role of railways, the translation of German literature into Hebrew, Arab propaganda in Britain in the decade before statehood, or Jewish and Arab lobbies in Canada during the same period. No one can read this book without learning something new.

The contributions that address the broader theme (that is, Israel's transition to statehood) reflect recent scholarly trends and insights. In the editor's introduction, Karsh offers a skillful compression of his case against the "Zionism-as-colonialism" model, while providing a useful reminder that Israel's founders considered a separate Palestinian state (as opposed to annexation of the West Bank by Jordan) to be in Israel's strategic interest. David Vital reminds us of the debt that Israel owes to historical Jewish communal institutions—a debt that Zionism has traditionally avoided recognizing. Donna Robinson Divine's article underlines the importance of civil society in Israel's development, adding (in comments written well before the current intifada) a prescient comparison identifying weaknesses in Palestinian civil society of the 1990s. Ruth Kark and Joseph Glass also stress continuity in Jewish history by challenging the long-standing boundary between the pre-Zionist "Old Yishuv" and the "New Yishuv" that began in the 1880s. This is, in short, an eclectic buffet, with piquant offerings.

[1] They first appeared as a special issue of Israel Affairs, Summer 1999.