A former prime minister reveals divisive conflict within and beyond Israel’s borders.
Growing up on a kibbutz, Barak was 6 years old when the state of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. Immediately, Arab armies invaded, the first of many wars that the author chronicles in his vividly detailed, often chillingly tense memoir of Israel’s—and his own—fraught history. Israel won the 1948 war, gaining about a third more land than the U.N. partition plan proposed, but at the cost of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, for the young Barak, the consequences were inevitable: For Israel to exist, “we had to win and the Arabs had to lose.” The Six-Day War in 1967 underscored that idea: Israel prevailed militarily and tripled the territory it controlled. Suddenly, “we had a sense that we could breathe.” Although he knew then that Israel’s Arab neighbors had not turned into friends, he believed that “having come face-to-face with our overwhelming military supremacy Arab states would, over time, grant Israel simple acceptance,” and possibly, in the future, peace. By 1967, Barak was a soldier; considering a career as a physicist, he opted instead for the army and rose through the ranks to become a general. Among his close friends in the military was Benjamin Netanyahu, “smart, tough, and self-confident,” who later became his political opponent. Barak recounts crisis after crisis—hijacked planes, outright wars, the assassinations of Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat, Intifadas—as Arabs grew increasingly combative, terrorist organizations coalesced, and Israeli right-wing factions gained power, determined to seize land and oppose a Palestinian state. The author entered politics when he joined Rabin’s government, served as defense minister under his successor, Shimon Peres, and went on to lead the Labor Party and become a one-term prime minister. He describes in detail his frustrating role in pursuing peace agreements with the recalcitrant Arafat, and he volleys sharp criticism at Netanyahu’s current militant leadership.
An insider’s view of a volatile and violent history.