The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War Review

The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War
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The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War ReviewI've read many books on the Israel/Palestine conflict (Smith, Tessler, Bickerton/Klausner, etc.) but this one is by FAR the best. First, it's actually fun to read. Gelvin writes as if he is there in the room having a conversation. The book is peppered with jokes and wry observations, and although Gelvin obviously knows his way around the academic world, there is none of the usual academic jargon. Second, most historians present history as one disconnected thing after another. Gelvin states a theme at the beginning of the book and sticks to it. For Gelvin, the conflict has had three phases: the first involved the initial encounter between two peoples (Jewish settlers and Arabs); the second began in 1948 when it was defined as an interstate "Arab-Israeli conflict" and the Palestinian question dropped off the map for most of the world (except the PLO); the third began in 1993 when Israelis and Palestinians recognized each other and brought the conflict full circle. This should be obvious, yet no one else I've read has said this directly. Also, the author keeps reminding the reader of the global context for the conflict, from the emergence of nationalism in Europe and its impact on Jews and Arabs in the nineteenth century to the impact of the end of the Cold War.
This is definitely a five star book, but I can see how it will drive some people nuts (i.e. those who can't bring themselves to use the words "Palestine" or "Palestinian" in their reviews). Zionists claim their nationalism is special, but Gelvin points out that it is pretty much a typical 19th century nationalism: it reconstructs Jewish history in its image, it insists that Jews have a right to establish a sovereign state on a piece of land they ruled thousands of years ago, etc. But all nationalisms do the same thing. What will really drive people nuts is that Gelvin shows how much Zionism and Palestinian nationalism resemble each other: both invent traditions, both claim to fulfill their peoples' national destinies, both have used terror to accomplish their goals. Gelvin doesn't let the Zionists off the hook, but he doesn't let the Palestinians off the hook either. Just read his analysis of the PLO doctrine of armed struggle or his profile of Arafat. His argument here is simple: while both national movements have a lot to answer for, if you accept the right of Jews or Palestinians to self-determination, you really can't ignore the right of the other side to self-determination either.
One small criticism: I read another book by this author (The Modern Middle East) in which he added inserts with anecdotes and stories that were related to points raised in the main text. They were a really good read, and I wish he did the same in this book.The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War OverviewThe conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has lasted over a century. James L. Gelvin's account of that conflict, from the first glimmerings of national consciousness among Jews and Ottoman Palestinians to the present, offers a compelling, accessible and up-to-the-moment introduction for students and general readers. The book makes no attempt to be encyclopedic in coverage. It is rather an interpretive, thematically composed essay, set within the framework of global history. Now in a revised edition, Gelvin's award-winning book takes the reader through the 2006 Summer War and its aftermath.

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